By Meg Moss, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director
Young Commissioners is a 4-H program through the NC Cooperative Extension Center, and provides selected high school students the opportunity to work on leadership, soft skills, and to become better citizens of Sanford and Lee County. I had the pleasure of meeting the Young Commissioner participants last week. This is a group of twelve students who clearly have an understanding of leadership and civic responsibility. They are also a very inquisitive group of young people, asking lots of questions. In fact, the Young Commissioners and I had an hour-long interactive session, which was followed by a solid twenty minutes of questions about our business community. I loved the conversations we had, and hated to cut it short, but other presenters were waiting their turn!
We talked about what their vocational aspirations are, and then spent quite a good bit of time on “what is economic development?” As a part of that discussion, we talked about what a business or industry may look for when deciding on which community they want to choose for their location. The Young Commissioners came up with a lot of good answers, such as location, workforce availability, land availability, taxes, incentives, and proximity to transportation. I threw in a few other considerations for them to ponder, such as labor costs, energy availability and costs, and quality of life.
Something I learned from our time together is that there appears to be a gap in knowledge regarding what industries and employers are here in Lee County that have good paying jobs to offer. When asked for our top employers (by number of employees), the answers were few. The students were pleasantly surprised when we went through the full list.
And it’s not just the large industries that peaked their interest; our small business community was part of the conversation, which led to a conversation about the Chamber of Commerce, and its goals of promoting and protecting the interests of the business community, whether that business is large or small. The Chamber is able to support businesses through marketing, advocacy, networking and education.
Another question that arose from the students was “why don’t we have a Target?” Based on that question, we discussed our population size, and median household income. Our community is on a growth trajectory, and based on the new industries that are locating in Lee County, the median household income is expected to rise, as well as our population.
Outside of business and industry, the Young Commissioners have many other topics that they cover, such as public speaking, teamwork, leadership development, confidence building and career skills. Young Commissioners is an organization that goes out into the community. Not only doing community service projects, but also learning about our city and how it works. In addition to meeting with leadership from the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, they meet with local law enforcement and state and local government officials. During the session with the County Commissioners, they were most intrigued by the county budget and all the considerations the commissioners have to take into account when making budgetary decisions.
It is a competitive application process to become a Young Commissioner, and participants are required to take part in a two-week orientation over the summer, prior to their monthly meetings and civic projects throughout the year. Do you have a high school student who may be interested in applying for the program for next summer? Keep a lookout on the NC Cooperative Extension – Lee County website, or email volunteer club leader, Cindy Howenstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.