Chancellor’s visit to Edenton is positive indicator for region

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I enjoyed hearing Chancellor Thomas Conway of Elizabeth City State University when he visited Edenton earlier this week.

The informal gathering in the Culinary Arts Building on the Edenton-Chowan Campus of College of The Albemarle was a positive indicator of where the university might be headed under Conway’s leadership.

The first thing that caught my attention, and perhaps the most important aspect of the whole event, was that the chancellor was in Edenton this early in his tenure at the university. While I don’t question that previous chancellors understood the importance of ECSU to the entire 21-county region it is especially positioned to serve, the physical presence of the chancellor at an event in one of the outlying counties early on was a significant symbolic gesture.

And Chowan County is by no means alone in getting the chancellor’s attention. The plan as explained at the Chowan event on Monday morning is for Conway to attend events throughout the region in order to communicate to residents the goals the university has and also to hear what citizens of different counties want to see happen at the school.

It’s a balancing act, of course, since the name of the institution is Elizabeth City State University, which clearly anchors the university in Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County.

On the other hand, though, the university serves and relies heavily for its student body on all of the counties in northeastern North Carolina. ECSU has students from outside the state but definitely has a focus on being a regional institution for this part of the state.

It just is a sound strategy to have a visible presence in the smaller, rural counties that are going to continue to be a prime source of students.

It was also encouraging to hear Conway emphasize entrepreneurship and talk about the development of an entrepreneurship lab and the need to prepare students not only to step in the good jobs that are available but also to become job creators themselves.

“Small businesses are going to be the businesses that are going to life the economy in this region,” Conway said.

The chancellor reviewed some of the economic benefits to the region of having ECSU here — figures dealing with spending by students who come into the area to attend the university, additional income earned by graduates who continue to live and work in the region, and other economic impacts — but also indicated he planned to be in conversation with economic development leaders in the region about how the university can do more to boost the region’s economy.

Conway understands the importance of tourism to the economy in this region and also is aware of other important industries such as agriculture. He mentioned the potential for growth in the health care sector and other businesses helping to meet the needs of an aging population.

Finally, the Chancellor stressed the importance of keeping the long view in mind.

“The benefit of the work that we do is really going to accrue to future generations,” Conway said.

That’s a good outlook for any of us.