Witten, Scott. “Image problem: Is it real or is it just media hype?” Robesonian 17 December 2001.
U. S. Representative Mike McIntyre recently sent letters to the chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies, encouraging them to consider locating in Robeson County. As he feels others need to do, he highlighted the county's positive features: “a loyal work force, an abundant water supply, major interstates and low-cost construction.” This article goes on to discuss whether the county really has a negative image, how much impact the negative image (if it exists) might have on a company's or a professional's decision about moving to the county, and how the negative image might have come about and been perpetuated. Phil Kirk, chairman of North Carolina Citizens for Business, points to recent problems at Robeson Community College that caused SACS to put the school on probation (see WITT015) as the sort of controversy businesses don't like to see. He notes that incidents like this might overshadow the county's strengths. Greg Taylor, the Cape Fear Regional Small Business Center's director of small business and technology, remarks that different industries place priority on different requirements, making it difficult to discern how much difference the county's image makes. Morris Bullock, assistant vice president of physician and business development at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, finds that the county's economic problems and its higher-than-average illiteracy and dropout rates make it harder to attract medical professionals. Opinions differ on the role of the news media in creating the problem (if it exists) and perpetuating it. Greg Cummings, director of Robeson County's economic development office, maintains that the news media's extensive coverage of stories such as the Robesonian hostage-taking and Eddie Hatcher, the murder of Michael Jordan's father, the county school board, student test scores, county race relations, and the aforementioned problems at Robeson Community College have damaged the county's business recruitment efforts. He notes that after a company visits the county to assess its industrial parks, banks, neighborhoods, and schools, it checks out the area by visiting the local media's Web sites. What's reported on the front page and in editorials might keep businesses from coming. Tony Normand, CEO of COMtech, an education technology park being developed near Pembroke, believes most of the public agrees with Greg Cummings. He adds, however, that this attitude is “killing the messenger”; people are blaming the newspaper for writing about a problem, rather than blaming the people or entities who created the problem. He would prefer, however, that the local newspaper run fewer stories on topics such as Eddie Hatcher and the murder of Michael Jordan's father. He states, “I realize that the news media has to run the news as it takes place and that people want to read that. But my concern is how long do you run it on the front page and how often do you bring it up?” Cummings is honest and upfront when he talks to prospective businesses about the county. If they don't ask him about the school system or the crime rate, he brings it up. He tries to counter any negative perceptions by discussing steps that are being taken to improve these situations.