Taped discreetly to the cpu of my office computer, shaded by the stack of papers that sits atop it, is one basic, succinct quote: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Few people realize it is there, tape curling, corners ripped, its clean Helvetica typeface speaking volumes. But while it goes unnoticed by most, it reminds me daily of two important things – all men are not created equal, at least when it comes to power, and one man can indeed make a difference, even if it’s only on a small scale.
Power is something anyone can achieve. What truly matters is what is done with it.
Here’s a look at those individuals who have made an impression on us of late, our movers and shakers if you will, our most influential people. It is not, by no means, an accounting of every wonderful person along the Crystal Coast; there are simply too many for any publication to feature. These are, instead, those who we plan to keep an eye on, not because we think they’re up to mischief, but because we think we might be able to learn something.
When discussing her nomination of Patrick Conneely for an Outrageous Customer Service Award presented by the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce, Shawn Cherry hit the nail on the head in describing her visits to Morehead City’s Chik-fil-A.
“Their positive and energetic enthusiasm makes me feel better about everything. I am suddenly very aware of the lack of good service from other places and industries. And it makes me do a check on myself … am I being polite? Am I being helpful? Do I make people feel welcome? It’s not often that a restaurant – or any business really – especially one staffed with young people, makes me want to be a better person.”
Employer of the Year, Outrageous Customer Service Award, these are milestones for Patrick Conneely, but they are by no means the mission. For the Conneely’s, helping young people develop their professional skills as well as a strong code of ethics is the most important matter at hand.
We’d heard stories of their outreach through the years. A young person without a home was employed, mentored and matched with a fellow co-worker as roommates. A student who lacked transportation when it came time to go off to college was moved in before the first day of classes. The young man currently finishing his paralegal training under his guidance; the former employees working at local banks. With a job at Chik-fil-A, life lessons come free of charge, from developing a personal code of ethics to budgeting and volunteerism.
The restaurant employs about 20 high school students and 20-25 community college students at any one time, according to Patrick’s wife Laura. And daily, Conneely can be found in the thick of things – at the drive through window, in the kitchen, cleaning the dining room.
“Our employees work so hard for us. Ten times harder than you would find in a corporate setting,” she said. “And sometime they just need an extra boost, a little guidance. Many young people today don’t have someone to show them what to do next. We’re so glad that we are in a position where we are able to help out a little bit.
“It sounds like a lot when you say it out loud, but when you’re in the middle of life, when living it, we’re so in it that sometimes we almost forget that this isn’t the traditional normal,” Laura admits. “To love people, to help people move to the next step if the help is needed, that’s really why we’re here.”
Patrick, she said, is an incredibly humble man and that is perhaps what makes his efforts so appealing. While always moved and appreciative, he gets a little embarrassed by the recognition that comes his way. The biggest compliment of all, she said, is when local companies request that he speak on leadership – which he will be doing later this month with a group of teachers.
“That just isn’t why he does it,” said Laura. “His goal is to inspire others and that’s when he is most in his element.”
Certainly the environment at the fast food chain is partly credited to the impeccable business model created by Chik-fil-A, however, it takes an individual to pick up those tenets and run with them. Patrick doesn’t jog. The former offensive captain for the UNC-Chapel Hill Tar Heels who helped lead the team to victory over Arkansas in the 1995 Carquest Bowl has been in a full sprint since he left the field. And he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. From Spirit Nights that donate a portion of their proceeds to area nonprofits to the green team that works with local high schools students to promote environmental stewardship, Chik-fil-A and Patrick Conneely are incredible assets to the community.
Travis Burt & Keith Byrd
North Carolina Secretary of Commerce John Skvarla, III, made a stop in Emerald Isle on Aug. 17, not to discuss policy as one might assume, but rather to share his remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the only company in Carteret County listed on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest growing private companies in America.
Founded in 2008 in the back room of the Swell Surf Shop, Transportation Impact, which specializes in helping high-volume shippers reduce cost, has saved companies across the county more than $125 million to date. The company brings together the talents of Keith Byrd and Travis Burt, both of whom have spent more than 20 years in upper management with UPS. As a service provider, the company could, in essence, be located anywhere and still service its various clients. Byrd and Burt, however, take pride in calling the Crystal Coast home. From two employees to nearly 40, the growing business hopes to move into its new 13,000 square foot digs in 2016. The multi-use building will house the company offices, two residential properties and a restaurant.
It is not necessarily the company’s marked growth that impresses us most, but rather its investment in the community. And we’re not the only ones; Transportation Impact has garnered local, state and national recognition for its aggressive growth and corporate responsibility. Since its inception, the company has donated more than $1 million dollars to various causes. It has awarded scholarships to high school seniors each year since 2010, been the primary sponsor of the Emerald Isle St. Patrick’s Festival since 2012, donated more than $10,000 to the towns pedestrian/bike path, and been heavily involved with the Boys and Girls Club, Petty Family Foundation, Carteret General Hospital’s new cancer center, Broad Street Clinic and many others. In addition, employees of the company have logged hundreds of hours of community service along the way.
Individually, Keith and Travis have made significant contributions to a variety of foundations and worthy causes. Each has served on the board of the Economic Development Committee in Emerald Isle and held advisory roles for the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce.
There is a lot that the men do that is relatively quiet, admits marketing and public relations manager, Brandon Staton, who said he could talk forever about their integrity and character.
There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t hear some mention of Donnie Griggs, founding pastor of One Harbor Church. Griggs, his team of pastors and church elders have become mainstays in the community. From removing fallen trees, building handicapped ramps, hosting Family Promise to provide food, lodging and fellowship for homeless families in need., revamping mobile homes so they will pass inspection at Willis’ Mobile Home Park or partnering with Johnson Family Dentistry to offer heavily discounted dental services to those in the community who cannot afford dental insurance.
Griggs, his wife Jill, and a group of friends, felt called to start a church that reached out to people who had given up on Christianity or had never been to church. The hope was that One Harbor would be a church that would serve and be a blessing to the city and surrounding community.
In January 2009, the One Harbor Church began with 17 adults and two children in a living room. By Easter Sunday it had moved into a former gas station in Atlantic Beach and as summer took hold it began offering two services. Fall saw a move to the DJ Shooters building further down Highway 58. In August of 2010, the congregation had outgrown that space as well. It moved to the Olde Towne Theatre building in downtown Morehead City and began offering two services with a matter of months. With a larger number of members who reside in Beaufort, the church launched a second location on Turner Street in Beaufort in October 2012. It too now offers two services each Sunday.
“The “feel” of One Harbor is intentionally contextualized for our area,” explained Pastor Bryan Hart. “We want to make it easy for people who are skeptics, doubters, or seekers to feel welcome, regardless of their walk of life. Dress code is not important, but authenticity is. One of our distinctives is that we want to be a church where it is hard to pretend.”
It’s laid back, come as you are approach speaks loudly to the area’s young people and the church responds with active youth and young adult programs, including community service projects and outreach.
In 2015, One Harbor Church has added a new level of permanence to its relationship with Carteret County – home ownership. Early in the year it purchased several lots on Fisher Street between 17th and 16th streets and is in the process of renovating the site it can call its own. The new facility will provide space for Sunday worship services, kid’s ministry, church offices, as well as space to offer financial classes, small groups, recovery groups, etc. Pastor Hart said they hope the additional space will allow the church to partner with a variety of local nonprofits to further the church mission of serving the community.
When the conversation turns to commercial fishing in Eastern North Carolina there’s little doubt that Pam’s name will be mentioned. Whether you’re in Wrightsville Beach, Harkers Island or Hatteras, her reputation as an advocate for the commercial fishing industry precedes her up and down the coast.
A festival on the Outer Banks, a panel discussion on sustainable fisheries at the Farm to Fork Picnic in Durham, a board meeting of the Carteret Catch program, of which she was a founding board member – whatever the event, Morris is there, telling the story of Down East and the challenges faced by those attempting to keep the state’s commercial fishing industry alive.
She was supposed to be an art teacher. The former commercial fisherman earned a bachelor’s degree in creative arts and teaching credentials from UNC-Charlotte. She returned to her alma mater, East Carteret, for a year of teaching, but in 2000 she found herself at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, working alongside Karen Amspacher as plans were developed and the museum’s permanent home was constructed.
“Pam’s talents and skills are especially evident at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center where she serves as exhibit coordinator,” said Amspacher, the museum’s executive director. “Her dedication to the Core Sound Museum has helped make it what it is today through local displays, community nights and her love for waterfowling traditions and community heritage. She loves Down East and it shows in her hard work and determination. The Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center would not be what it is without Pam Morris.”
Along with Karen, Morris had another mentor, the late Janice Smith, wife of the late Billy Smith. The couple was instrumental in the formation of the NC Fisheries Association in 1952 and dedicated their lives to raising awareness of the fishing industry. Morris was able to pick up the torch that the couple ignited and share the story far and wide.
Not only was Morris instrumental in the formation of the Carteret Catch program which lets shoppers and diners know which fish markets and restaurants are serving up local seafood, but she went to other communities along the coast and helped them establish similar programs. She continues to serve as president of the organization. In addition she serves on the eligibility panel for the Division of Marine Fisheries. Her hands have been in many projects through the years, from the Blessing of the Fleet and the education tent at the NC Seafood Festival to the recent organization of a Smithsonian exhibit at the Waterfowl Museum.
“Pam Morris has given untold hours to the communities of Down East through her work with fisheries organizations such as the Carteret County Fishermen’s Association and Carteret Catch,” said Amspacher. “Her understanding of fisheries issues and her long history of working for the industry have been a collective testament to her commitment to the commercial fishing industry.”
Through it all, Pam Morris is as unassuming and genuine as they come. A mass of dark hair and a constant smile to greet you, she is not only tough as they come, but loved by everyone who meets her. We feel certain, with Pam in their corner, that everyone will know how vital Carteret County’s fishing community is to its character and culture.
Trace Cooper is a man that puts his money where his mouth is. Nevermind that he is mayor of Atlantic Beach and a third generation resident of the small ocean front community, where he strives to maintain the family atmosphere and ensure that the needs of his constituents are met.
Mayor Cooper, an attorney and developer, manages, owns and operates a third-generation family business, Oceanana Family Resort & Fishing Pier in Atlantic Beach. He is also owner and proprietor of the Arendell Room Cocktail Bar in Morehead City. In the last few years, however, his business holdings have increased – this time in his own backyard. The entrepreneur and business partners recently opened the popular Idle Hour Biergarten and Pescara restaurants, both in Atlantic Beach.
This year, his dedication to the community, and to the generations of Coopers who have preceded him, was recognized with the inaugural Joan Huss Pulley Award for Public Service Sponsored by Duke Energy Progress and presented by the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce.
“Mayor Cooper is using his time, talent and compassion to positively impact the lives of others, and he exhibits the business values of integrity, stewardship, inclusion, initiative, teamwork and accountability,” offered Millie Chalk of Duke Energy Progress during the ceremony. “He is known for his progressiveness but also for his respect for the values of his hometown and its citizenry. He is totally dedicated to protecting the heritage of Atlantic Beach as a small beachfront community visited by thousands each year,” Chalk said.
Cooper was nominated for the award by Atlantic Beach Town Manager David Walker and the town staff, which speaks volumes of his role as a leader. Walker noted that Cooper is known not only for his progressiveness, but for his respect for the values and heritage of the community and its citizens.
Mayor Cooper serves as chair of the Carteret County Beach Commission and chair of the Crystal Coast Tourism Authority, but perhaps his favorite role, said Mike Wagoner, president of the chamber, is serving as “Promoter-in-Chief” of all vital citizen, tourism and business related interests in Atlantic Beach. Atlantic Beach and the entire county are richer for his hands on approach to town management.
OK, we’ll admit it – sometimes breaking through the protective wall that surrounds Carteret County can be tricky. We not always keen on change and we’re certainly leery of people who come from ‘off’ with great plans for our future development.
But every once in a while a visionary comes along who it seems should have been here all along. Bucky Oliver not just loves picturesque Beaufort as a place to do business, he understands it and recognizes its needs. And because of that, the Olivers and their master planned community at the site of the former Beaufort Fisheries plant on Taylors Creek, has been a near perfect fit from its conception.
One of the first things Bucky and Wendi Oliver did when they arrived on the scene was to offer an olive branch. Their development, Front Street Village, began hosting community events almost immediately, including fireworks on the Fourth of July so Beaufort residents no longer had to cross the bridge to Morehead City or Atlantic Beach. Then came the trolley that provides transportation throughout town for a nominal fee.
Once the first stage of development was complete, the Boathouse at Front Street Village, the site began making its space available for fundraising and special events, establishing themselves as an active part of the community. In 2015, the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival moved the bulk of its main events to the site with great success.
Bucky and Wendi’s reach extends to Morehead City as well, where they embraced Carteret Community College, becoming the primary sponsor of the college’s annual Spanish Mackerel and Dolphin Fishing Tournament, which aids the Carteret Community College Foundation.
They have also shown a great deal of support for the county’s public school system as well. The couple took on the work of supporting Hill Center reading training for teachers across the county. The couple arranged for the Hill Center’s top staff members to train local teachers in these highly recognized and effective teaching methods. When the Carteret County Public School Foundation formed, Bucky agreed to serve on the all-volunteer board of directors and the Boathouse continues to hold special events throughout the year to help support the organization. The business has shown support to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Coastal Carolina and has been a remarkable partner with the Town of Beaufort.
We feel certain we will see more of the Olivers as Front Street Village continues to take shape. Plans for the space include a variety of resort-style cottages and townhomes, a restaurant, chapel, hotel and more, all within reach of downtown Beaufort – by trolley, of course.
Rarely does a major event happen in Carteret County without Sound Bank’s name attached in one way or another. And leading the way each step is President and CEO Phil Collins.
When Sound Bank’s founders got together in the spring of 2000 to talk about starting a community bank, they felt that a bank which was locally owned and operated could provide better personal service, especially with decisions being made locally by people who live and work in and are committed to the community. It would also be important for employees to be dedicated to giving back to the community through local involvement, said Mary Charles Jenkins, marketing manager.
Today, associates are involved in almost every major organization in the county, serving on boards and as officers in organizations such as our local hospital, Rotary clubs, chambers, PTOs, churches, historical associations and Boys and Girls Clubs. It also supports the arts, local schools, our community colleges and local sports teams. We make our share of donations, but are most proud of our hands-on involvement, she said. Giving back to the community, both through donations and in-kind, is a philosophy not only supported by encouraged by Collins.
The bank opened in 2001 in a small temporary office and moved into her current location in Morehead City in 2003. In 2005, a branch opened in Cape Carteret, a loan production office opened in New Bern in 2006 and in 2007 Beaufort’s branch opened. A loan production facility was added in Jacksonville in 2012 and a full service branch in Cedar Point in 2013. In 2014, the bank acquired VantageSouth in New Bern and in 2015 opened a loan production office in Wilmington. A full service branch is in the works for Wilmington with an expected opening at the end of 2015.
The company has grown from an upstart with 12 employees to a thriving community bank with over $150 million in assets, six locations and 46 employees, said Jenkins. Through it all, community service and giving back to the community has been in the forefront, from sponsoring the Red Cross Bloodmobile and hosting “behind the scenes” field trips for second graders to serving on a variety of boards in Eastern Carolina. Members of the staff serve on boards for the Carteret Community Foundation, Salvation Army, Carteret County Planning Commission, Crystal Coast Hospice House, Emerald Isle Business Association, Camp Albemarle, Beaufort Historical Association, Beaufort Business Association, Local PTO’s and more.
In Collins’ own words recently: “I do not know if there is another bank in our area that is more active in the community than we are. We may not give as much money-wise, but hour-wise all of our employees are very involved in local community civic organizations. I really cannot think of a civic group in town that does not include an active Sound Bank employee or director. That goes for everything from the local hospital to the economic development council to the downtown revitalization. We have a large seafood festival here, which is the second largest festival in North Carolina that we are very active with. We give employees time off from work sometimes to be involved with these things, so we really promote community involvement.”
It’s no secret to anyone in the business community that we at NCCOAST might have a little bit of a soft spot for Tom Kies. Our former leader, friend and mentor had a profound effect on us all when he served as publisher of our family of magazines. With that said, our appreciation for the role he plays in our individual lives isn’t enough to garner Tom a listing with our power players. The work he has done as the leader of the Downtown Morehead City Revitalization Association, however, is nothing short of remarkable.
A writer, a manager, a networker – Tom wears many hats. But it is when marketing something he truly believes in that his biggest talent is most evident. And Tom Kies adores Morehead City. From small projects to major investments, he attacks each task with the same veracity.
The mission of DMCRA is to restore Morehead City as a destination through sustainable revitalization. Tom woos business owners interested in downtown Morehead City, he assists with grant requests, works hand in hand with the town on major projects, organizes the Alive at Five concert series, parades and July 4th festivities. He tirelessly ensures that Morehead City is a place that people not only want to do business, but where they want to visit and live.
In the past few years Tom was paramount in getting bike racks installed in the downtown area, he has awarded façade grants to six downtown businesses, helped Connect Carteret launch its small business incubator, planned the ever-growing Crystal Coast Boat Show, hosted workshops for business leaders to help determine curriculum at Carteret Community College, facilitated the filming of a music video on the waterfront and helped bring the Southern Kingfish Association National Championship Fishing Tournament to the waterfront this fall. And that barely scratches the surface. New business filters in to Morehead City at a steady clip and the town is enjoying a noticeable uptick in foot traffic.
This summer, with the opening of the Bask condotel on the Morehead City waterfront, and the opening of the new home for the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament, Tom’s ability to rally support for large projects has never been more apparent. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Consumer finance website NerdWallet recently ranked Morehead City fifth on its Best Place to Start a Business in North Carolina list.
With Tom Kies on its side, we feel certain Morehead City will continue to assert itself as the perfect place to eat, shop and fish!
By Amanda Dagnino