The Twin Counties has been plagued with unemployment and stagnate economic growth for so long it’s no wonder the announcement of 800 new high-paying jobs tops the list of local news stories of 2017.
Also making headlines was a quadruple homicide in Halifax County, a local high school winning its fifth football championship and the growing opioid crisis.
1 Triangle Tire Co., one of the largest tire manufactures in China, is part of the largest ever manufacturing investment in rural North Carolina with a nearly $580 million in investment and the creation of 800 jobs coming to Edgecombe County by 2023 at the 1,449-acre Kingsboro megasite. The plant is expected to pay an average wage of $56,450, which is almost double the average wage of $32,642 in Edgecombe County.
2 Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore retired in December. He came under scrutiny in August after announcing city crime rates were at an all-time low. A Telegram investigation showed city crime statistics were often underreported to state and federal agencies and some crimes were downplayed. Moore’s been temporarily replaced by Willie Williams, a former Rocky Mount officer who served as chief in Wilson. The search for a permanent replacement is underway.
3 The big news of 2016 turned sour when CSX switched tracks away from a planned $270 million train hub in Rocky Mount. The decision not to build the trains-to-truck terminal on U.S 301 across from Wesleyan College started with new CEO Hunter Harrison, but looks to remain in place after his death in November. The hub would’ve meant 300 high-paying jobs and $125 million being pumped into the state economy.
4 A quadruple homicide rocked a quiet Halifax County community in August. Matthew Lewis Simms, 25, was charged by the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office with four counts of murder in connection to the Aug. 21 deaths of James and Peggy Whitley and their friends James and Janice Harris. The two couples were killed while they were playing cards in the kitchen of the Harris home at 980 Fishing Creek Road in the Glenview community. Their killer shot them through a glass storm door.
5 The Event Center, often controversial for its location and size, inched closer to completion in 2017. Officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the 4,000-seat Event Center in March. News that a City Councilman Andre Knight had his mother purchase a dilapidated church building at the site stirred controversy over the summer. Knight said he plans to open a black history museum in the church; critics believe Knight was real estate speculating.
6 Rocky Mount Mills — a 150-acre mixed used development on the Tar River — signed a long-term lease with its first major corporate tenant in 2017. Plans call for the Mills to be a 150-acre live-work-play development with 300,000 square feet of office space, around 20 acres for selected advanced manufacturing and 100 new and restored homes and apartments. The site is already home to restaurants and a brewery incubator. The City Council voted to lease the seven-acre Panther Island in the Tar River to the Mills.
7 Tarboro High School added its fifth state title with a Vikings victory over Mount Airy in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1AA state final in early December at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. Tarboro’s unbeaten 2017 team secured its place in the history books with a 15-0 record. The Vikings won a battle of unbeaten and top-seeded teams in defeating Mount Airy.
8 In a five-part series this past summer, the Telegram examined the growing opioid crisis in the Twin Counties. The series showed how Nashville Police Chief Tom Bashore has become a model for ways a community can fight the drug epidemic. The series also looked at victims, survivors and first responders. The crisis doesn’t just affect individuals, but the state’s health care and social welfare as well.
9 Two teachers at Southern Nash High School were charged with sex crimes against students in 2017. Science teacher and assistant football coach Joshua Sessoms, 24, was arrested in October and charged with statutory rape of a child under the age of 15. The child was a student when the incident occurred in Raleigh earlier that month. In March, Rebecca Reeves, who taught consumer sciences at the school, was charged with two counts of sexual activity with a student.
10 After a rollercoaster ride, Williford Elementary School learned it wouldn’t be included in the N.C. Innovative School District, the newly-created state-controlled school district designed to offer intensive intervention to the state’s most fragile schools. Williford isn’t out of the woods yet, the school remains under scrutiny and may come under consideration again in 2018.