Edgecombe focuses on recovery


Staff Writer

Thursday, December 28, 2017

For Edgecombe County, 2017 was about recovery.

The county continued to pick up the pieces left by Hurricane Matthew while trying to climb out of the years-long economic slump that had hit everyone, especially Eastern North Carolina, hard.

The year kicked off with an announcement from James Knight that he soon would retire as sheriff. Knight was a longtime sheriff and the first black sheriff of Edgecombe County. Local Democrats got to choose his successor, leading to some in-fighting among party leadership.

Clee Atkinson, a retired trooper with the N.C. State Highway Patrol, was selected over two longtime deputies and a retired Rocky Mount police officer. Atkinson already has announced plans to run for the office when his appointed term expires.

While there were a few shakeups in Edgecombe County’s smaller towns during recent municipal elections, Tarboro and Princeville residents expressed pleasure with incumbent mayors and council and board members. Joe Pitt was handily elected as Tarboro mayor, solidifying the position he was appointed to last year. Princeville Mayor Bobbie Jones won big with 70 percent of the vote against three opponents, including Milton Bullock, a prominent and popular town commissioner and famous entertainer.

Challengers did capture two seats on the Pinetops Town Board of Commissioners. Donald Webb and Barbara Jean Taylor defeated incumbents Suzanne Coker Craig and Joyce Tolson.

Gov. Roy Cooper spent a day in October talking with Edgecombe County officials about recovering from Hurricane Matthew. He viewed the site of a planned housing development and visited a Princeville resident at her refurbished home.

Tarboro, Princeville and other Eastern North Carolina towns were so damaged from flooding caused by Matthew that the storm name has been retired by meteorologists.

Cooper said Matthew hit North Carolina hard, but the state is making progress. He pointed to rebuilt homes in Edgecombe County as proof.

Cooper visited the home of Lolita Pippen on Snowden Drive, a block from Princeville Elementary School. Pippen's home was destroyed by floodwaters, but volunteers with the United Methodist Disaster Response Team worked on rebuilding the house since April.

Cooper soon visited Edgecombe County again in December — twice in two weeks. First, Cooper announced Corning would open a plant, meaning 100 jobs for area workers. The news was welcome and appreciated, but folks seemed to expect bigger news. It came a week later when Cooper announced that a major Chinese tire manufacturer had settled on the Kingsboro Megasite for a huge investment, the largest manufacturing investment ever in rural North Carolina, the governor said.

With an average salary of $55,000 — nearly $20,000 more than the county’s average annual pay — the tire plant will employee 800 workers. Everyone greeted the news as an early Christmas present. Edgecombe County’s economy, one of the worst in the state, looks to be on the mend.

Officials and residents head into 2018 with their fingers crossed that the tire plant isn’t derailed like the announcement of a regional train hub. One of the few bits of bad news for the county in 2017 was word that CSX might not build its multi-million trains-to-trucks terminal in Rocky Mount as once planned.