On Monday afternoon, a Union County resident received the state’s highest honor for volunteer and community service.
J. Carlisle Oxner — CEO and President of Arthur State Bank and former member of the Union County Development Board — thought he was going to the Union County Development Board offices on Monday to discuss the convention/cultural event center which was proposed for Downtown Union in 2010.
When he entered the building, however, he was greeted with a warm reception and a presentation from State Rep. Mike Anthony and State Sen. Harvey Peeler. Oxner was presented with the Order of the Silver Crescent in recognition of lifelong commitment to service to the people of South Carolina. Oxner served on the Union County Development Board for 21 years — from 1990-2011.
Framed with the award was a letter from Gov. Nikki Haley.
“It would be easy to point to specific accomplishments that merit the Order of the Silver Crescent, but, in fact, your entire life has been marked by a level of commitment and achievement that makes your community proud,” the letter read. “Your devotion to helping others and your activism within Union County exemplify your exceptional leadership skills. The many years of extensive volunteer work with the Union County Development Board show you are dedicated to your community, and you have made it an even better place to live and work.”
Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker said the award presentation was masterminded and coordinated by board member Dr. Kristi Woodall.
“She was the board member who was very gracious to volunteer to do it,” Powell-Baker said. “She just took it and ran with it.”
Woodall was unable to attend the presentation due to family obligations.
Following the award presentation, Oxner sat down with The Union Daily Times, and rather than looking back at progress made thus far, he was concerned about what lies ahead for Union County.
First, Oxner mentioned the importance of the county having spec buildings in regard to recruiting new industry.
“Belk would not be coming to Union had the Disney plant not been available,” Oxner said. “We’ve got to have the spec buildings or we’re not going to have anything to show. Everybody has land and nobody wants it. They’re not coming to look at land; they want buildings that are already built because they want to start operation as soon as they can. Every county in the nation has raw land, so, we have to have a competitive advantage, and it has got to be through another spec building.”
Oxner also discussed the importance of political candidates educating themselves about how to improve economic development.
“I hear all these politicians who are running, talking about economic development, and they don’t know a damn thing about it,” he said. “They don’t come to the meetings to learn anything about it. I’ve never seen one in my 21 years ask anyone who’s in the business what needs to be done. So, they need to start with an education before they go talking this stuff. It sounds good, but they need to learn something if they really want it to happen.”
Oxner said he would encourage those who get elected to meet with Andrena Powell Baker and the board and come to the meetings. He also discussed the proposed convention/cultural events center, which he originally planned to discuss before learning he was to be the guest of honor on Monday.
Oxner said support is needed from Union County Council for the project to move forward.
“The city is full behind the events center, and they need help from the county,” Oxner said. “The county has money, and they need to be a part of it. And they need to get some backbone.”
Oxner went on to say he believes council members need to bone up on what needs to be done, and he believes the fact that the center was proposed for Downtown — instead of another part of the county — is a reason that some support may be lacking.
“Everybody in the county goes to Main Street, so it only makes sense that it go there, and the county really needs something like that,” he said. “The armory can only do so much. I think it could be a shot in the arm for everything we have in this county as far as events.”
Oxner also addressed another main issue coming up in the near future for Union County — its form of government.
“We have to go from a supervisor form of government to administrator,” he said. “One day we’re going to get stuck with somebody who’s not qualified to be in that job and it’s just going to be political — and you’re managing a huge business — and if they don’t know what they’re doing, we could be in big trouble overnight. So I would encourage the voters to talk to their county council members and let us vote on changing the form of government from supervisor to administrative.”
Oxner closed by pointing out how far the Union County Development Board has come since he came on the board in 1990.
“In 1990, it was the good ol’ boy system, where the board members — a lot of them, not all of them — and county council members were trying to sell land to the prospects themselves,” he said. “We ended up getting a lot of the older board members replaced with new blood who had a better business skill set than the previous ones.”
Oxner said it took awhile, but the “good ol’ boy” system was taken out of the equation.
“We ended up doing that and getting newer directors that had more practical experience than what we had when I first got on,” he said. “They were good people, but they didn’t necessarily have the skill set to do what the county needed to be done. So it has come a long way.”
For more information about the Union County Development Board, visit www.uniondevelopmentboard.com.