There was a full house on March 17 at the Green Construction and Sustainable Agriculture Conference at UNC Pembroke's Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development.
The conference, sponsored by the Lumber River Workforce Development Board, attracted a wide range of entrepreneurs to listen and learn, to network with colleagues and to display their products.
Lakisha Oxendine attended with her mother, Clara, to learn more about sustainable agriculture.
"We have 18 acres and we would like to learn more about sustainable farming," Clara Oxendine said.
"I'm unemployed right now, and I am looking into the Sustainable Agriculture Certificate program," Lakisha Oxendine said. "Right now, I'm thinking of putting in sweet potatoes, field peas and some other vegetables."
During the conference, the Oxendines learned how the Robeson County Agricultural Extension Service can support their business ideas. They also attended workshops on biotechnology, micro-propagation and "Turning Your Green Business into Green."
Matt and Mary Margaret Thames of Thames Construction in Laurinburg, N.C., wanted to learn more about green construction.
"The green way of construction is what people are looking for," said Matt Thames, a recent East Carolina University graduate who majored in construction management.
"This is a family business, and it's doing well right now, but we're looking to the future," said Mary Margaret Thames, a recent UNCP graduate in business administration.
Thomas Ammons, owner of EHC Environmental in Red Springs, N.C., attended the conference as an exhibitor and introduced his newest product, CleanSpace, a home crawlspace encapsulation system.
"Our system controls moisture, air quality and saves energy for home owners," Ammons said.
Other exhibitors were Pembroke Hardware, Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation (LREMC), N.C. Sustainable Energy Association and Simmons Heat and Air of Laurinburg.
Construction workshops touted business models, marketing and, of course, making money from green building practices. Scott Spivak of the Green Collar Crew in Charlotte, N.C., discussed home energy auditing and performance contracting.
"Our company was doing really well with new homes until a couple of years ago; now we're working with existing homes," Spivak said. "There are great opportunities now where, 3 to 4 years ago, we didn't know what a green audit was."
The Green Conference was sponsored by Progress Energy, MetCon Construction, LREMC and the Lumber River Workforce Development Board. Both Robeson and Richmond community colleges were also present to promote the schools' BioNetwork program.
Ryan Nance of Lumber River Workforce Development Board (LRWDB) welcomed the more than 100 conference participants. The LRWDB Mission is to develop, implement and coordinate regional plans to provide a job training, retraining and supportive services for the citizens of four counties, Robeson, Hoke, Scotland and Bladen counties.
"Green is here to stay, and, at its core, it's about how we will be more competitive in the future," Nance said. "The economy has been tough recently, but things are beginning to look up. We would like to see entrepreneurs get into or expand in the two areas of green construction and agriculture."
Thomas White, director of the Economic Development Partnership at NC State University, was the keynote speaker. He pointed out business incentives and education as critical to economic development.
"We continue to seek out large investments for the state, but organic growth from within is how economic development really happens," White said. "Developing human resources is the most critical factor, and education is going to drive us forward in North Carolina.
"There is a lot of talent in workforce development here today," he continued. "It's is good to see collaborations like this."