DOBSON — County residents seeking to further their professional lives and be leaders in the community should make it a point to mark Sept. 12 on their calendars.
On that day, the Leadership Surry County program will return after about a decade on hiatus.
But don’t wait too long, because the deadline for applications is Friday.
Organizers hope the program will bring together a group of about 20 future leaders, many of whom are already in supervisory or mid-management positions, from various fields and locales in the county.
Leadership Surry County will meet on the second Wednesday of each month, with the exception of December, from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. for a total of eight meetings. Participants must attend at least seven classes to complete the program.
The first meeting will be held on Sept. 12 at the Shelton-Badget N.C. Center for Viticulture and Enology at Surry Community College. Subsequent meeting locations will be announced to participants when finalized.
The program is being jointly presented by the Surry County Economic Development Partnership and Surry Community College.
During the meeting, participants will study and practice leadership skills while expanding their personal and professional networks.
According to Todd Tucker, president of the Economic Development Partnership, participants will also “get an insider’s look at what’s going on, what’s working and what’s challenging in Surry County.”
He said Friday that he hopes the program will open the eyes of participants to what’s going on in the different economic sectors in the county.
“We hope to show people what the important issues are in the different areas of the community,” Tucker said. “I’d like to see them become more engaged in the community because we’re going to need leaders in the future as we move forward for elected positions, charitable boards and other leadership roles.”
George Sappenfield, vice president of Surry Community College for corporate and continuing education, said organizers want to accomplish three goals with Leadership Surry County.
“One is to get a good mixture of people in the class who represent different parts of what goes on in Surry (County) and create a networking opportunity for them,” he said, noting that community leaders must be able to draw on different people and a wide variety of resources in order to effectively lead.
“We also want to build an awareness of how things were here in Surry County and how what’s going on in one field, such as health care, affects another, such as education,” Sappenfield continued.
But organizers’ main objective is for participants to become aware of what’s working in the county — and what isn’t.
“The ultimate goal is that these people will see (the) things we are doing here extremely well here in Surry and those things that we can work on and improve on as a team,” Sappenfield said.
During the program, participants will receive briefings on current activities in business and industry, municipal and county government, health care, education, agriculture, tourism and non-profit organizations.
In addition to networking opportunities and class work on the college’s Dobson campus, there will also be field trips, because as Sappenfield said, “we want it to be exciting.”
Bringing The Program Back
This isn’t the first time the program has been offered in the county.
Eight to 10 years ago, what was then called Leadership Surry County was the result of a growing sense among community leaders that economic development efforts would be stronger and better coordinated if more people knew what was going on in all county communities.
The task of creating the program fell to the community college, a task Sappenfield said was a natural fit.
“We are all about economic development and doing everything we can (to) help the growth of our service area,” he said.
Dennis Lowe, then the director of the college’s Small Business Center and occupational programs and now the chairman of the Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, coordinated the formation of the program.
He said the program was a resounding success.
“People cam from Elkin, Pilot Mountain, Lowgap, just everywhere,” Lowe said. “(They represented) banks, non-profits, schools, businesses — a good mixture. We targeted mid-management, but we had (participants at) all ages and levels of experience.”
Lowe called the program “intensive,” but said people enjoyed it.
“They’d learn some additional skills that would help them be better leaders, and it gave them access to similar individuals to form a network. They worked together in groups and you could see the pride they took in it. They would gain skills they didn’t even realize. I’d see them out at various functions and they were more at ease. It gave them confidence.”
As a result, Surry Community College expanded the program to Yadkin County, alternating it each year with Leadership Surry County.
But when the recession hit, companies cut back on their spending and the program was suspended.
But that doesn’t mean the program was forgotten.
Tucker said a lot of companies and individuals started talking to him and Economic Development Partnership Vice President LeeAnn Stokes about whether it could be resurrected.
“It was an important program for the county,” Tucker said, “and it fits in with part of our mission at the Partnership, which is growing leadership from high school, through young professionals and on to existing companies and their employees.”
“(Leadership Surry) has been away too long,” Sappenfield agreed. “We’re excited about being part of the team that brings it back.”
In a collaborative effort, the Partnership is providing program and logistical support, while the college is providing facilities and educational support.
Tucker said he hopes local companies and non-profit groups will contribute to the effort by sponsoring luncheons and hosting field trips.
Details of the application process are on both the college and county Economic Development Partnership websites.
Both Tucker and Sappenfield stressed that not everyone who applies will get in, as there will be a maximum of 20 people.
“We want being selected to be very special,” Sappenfield said. “We want this to be a high-quality group of people who show a lot of interest. Supervisors and mid-managers, preferably, but we’d also like to have a mixture of age and experience and different occupations. Business people, but also people from education, nonprofits, volunteer groups, tourism and hospitality, and just interested citizens. Every part of it contributes to the growth and positiveness of Surry County.”
The program cost will be $275 per person, and the deadline for applications is Aug. 17.
Organizers say final selection of participants will be made by Aug. 31, by the Leadership Surry County Committee.
Tucker said companies and other organizations interested in Leadership Surry may contact him at the Partnership office in Dobson at 336-401-9900, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.