Table of Contents July 2013

July 2013

Cover story

A place apart

Left behind, North Carolina's northeast corner gets a lift from an economic driver across the state line.
By Edward Martin

clientuploads/Archive_Images/2013/07/northeast-corner.jpgThe flat country road disappears into the night. Even in daylight, it’s hard to tell distance in the coastal plain, leveled by eons of rising and receding water until sky and horizon appear seamless. Vivian Chamblee’s round face and horn-rimmed glasses reflect the dashboard glow as she stares into the dark. Debris litters the pavement. Are those flickers of red and blue in the distance? A lump grows in her throat.

She’s as much Bertie County as if she took root when born here 67 years ago, a sharecropper’s daughter reared in a four-room house without electricity. She drove a mule and squashed thumb-sized hornworms that ate her daddy’s tobacco crops. “I got married and left home when I was 16. My first public job was housecleaning. I didn’t know how to clean a bathroom because I’d never had one.” She earned a high-school equivalency, went to night school for a nursing-assistant’s certificate and eventually became a dental assistant. In 1986, she and her husband built a frame rest home on the outskirts of Colerain, a town of about 200 just west of the Chowan River. It was smart business. Bertie and surrounding counties have some of the most elderly populations in the state. In 1990, they added a second one next door, for a total of 11 residents. Her husband died in 1993. Even after she remarried, Moore’s Family Care Home was her nest egg.

The writhing, sickish-green cloud sprang up about sundown on an April Saturday. Tearing across Snakebite Township, nothing stood between it and her rest home but farm fields and the feeble steeples of a few country churches. By the time word reached her in Ahoskie, 15 miles up the road on the Hertford County line, night was falling. When she arrives, the front-step railing still stands, illuminated by red and blue lights flashing on ambulances and sheriff’s cars. Beyond lie ruins. Broken, twisted bathroom pipes entangle an old man’s body. A dead woman’s leg protrudes from under a fallen wall. An ambulance whisks away another person, who will die the next day. That night, though, will live on. “It’ll never leave my head,” Chamblee says.

Hard times and bad luck are no strangers here. In a year’s span, northeastern North Carolina suffered three federally declared disasters: the tornadoes in 2011 that killed 24, including three people at Chamblee’s rest home, and flooding from Tropical Storm Nicole and Hurricane Irene. Between the floods, drought stunted crops. Nature shapes life here. So does location. North Carolina’s Northeast, as the region is marketed by economic developers, is officially 16 counties tucked into that corner of the state, between the ocean and Virginia state line. Currituck, the farthest away, is 190 miles from Raleigh, but miles don’t measure how remote the region is from the state’s urban centers. “People pretty much forget about us up here,” Charlie Knauss says. He’s a plant manager in Elizabeth City. With fewer than 19,000 people, it’s the region’s biggest town.

Features

Running the good races

Saturday night under the lights at Bowman Gray Stadium draws the most fans each week of any short track in the nation.
By Peter Anderson
 
Allen and Caroline Hair do more gabbing than gulping during lunch at J.S. Pulliams, a 100-year-old hot dog stand near Winston-Salem’s municipal airport. Customers, jammmed shoulder-to-shoulder in the small green-and-white-striped building, order hot dogs and barbecue sandwiches, then grab Cheerwine and Sun Drop sodas from a slide-top cooler. Mark Flynt, wearing an apron and white paper hat, surveys the scene from near the flattop grill. He hesitates to call himself owner and operator, which he is. He would rather customers consider him a friend, and the Hairs do. There’s no seating, so Flynt and the Hairs have to stand while swapping stories of races past. Caroline moves behind the counter to make way for more people coming through the door.
It has been like this most spring and summer Saturdays since 1949, when stock cars first competed at city-owned Bowman Gray Stadium. Though about 5 miles south of the stand, the racing there has left its mark — both literally and figuratively — on Pulliams: a door panel hanging near the checkout, photos on the wall, cash in the register, tales of the late Bill France Jr., former NASCAR CEO, flying in for a well-toasted hot dog with slaw. “Everyone who walks in that door will talk racing in one fashion or another,” Flynt says. “I get people who don’t even like racing, but yet they will still ask how it went over at Bowman Gray this past weekend.”

The drive

Before becoming a golf czar, John McConnell got canned. The firing only fueled his desire to build something better.
As told to Spencer Campbell
 
In 1982, John McConnell was an out-of-work software salesman looking to start his own company. This was before venture capitalists and investment bankers began handing over millions of dollars to nearly every tech startup with a half-decent business plan. So the Abingdon, Va., native employed a lot of bravado — and some sleight of hand — to get Raleigh-based Medic Computer Systems Inc. off the ground. After growing into the largest U.S. seller of software for doctors’ offices, the business was sold for $923 million in 1997. He later founded McConnell Golf LLC, now a collection of seven private clubs in North and South Carolina. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Photo Feature

Back paddle
One of the world's leading manufacturers of kayaks returns to the river that inspired its launching.

By Edward Martin, Photography by Shannon Millsaps

He shared a love of kayaking with its founders, but Boyce Greer’s role in the creation of Liquidlogic went beyond the Green River of western North Carolina. He often paddled its waters with Shane Benedict and Woody Callaway, kayak-makers who wanted to start their own company. One night, Callaway asked Greer, a banker, where they could find investors. “Boyce said, ‘Well, what are you thinking?’” Benedict recalls. “We told him, and he said, ‘I’m in. I’m your financing.’” Greer pumped several hundred thousand dollars into the startup, which is now part of Fletcher-based Legacy Paddlesports LLC and one of the most prominent brands in the world.

Departments

Up Front
Mill work.

NC Trend
How the economy turns.

John Hood — Free & Clear
Expirations on regulations.

Scott Mooneyham — Capital Goods
Outside perspective.

Regional Report
Eastern Triangle Triad Charlotte Western

Special Advertising Sections and Publications

Health care round table

Meetings and conventions guide

Pinehurst special section

Fayetteville special section

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