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Watauga's best: Local businesses honored at 2019 Best of the Best

Over 330 guests, staff and servers packed Alliance Bible Fellowship for the ninth annual Watauga Democrat Best of the Best awards ceremony to celebrate the top tier of businesses in the Boone area on April 23.

Hosted by the Watauga Democrat, presented by Blue Ridge Energy and Peabody’s Wine and Beer Merchants and cosponsored by Farm Bureau of Watauga County and Ross Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, the results were read by Mountain Times Publications Advertising Director Charlie Price and Advertising Sales Manager Manuel Zepeda. The winners walked down the VIP red carpet to receive their award from MTP Marketing Consultant Nathan Godwin, and then took part in a winner’s photo booth to show off their accomplishments.

“The overwhelming response pays tribute to area businesses and their loyal customers,” Price said of the more than 7,000 people who participated in the Best of the Best voting. Price noted that voters were limited to one vote per category on each device.

A total of 81 award-winning businesses and agencies were honored at the event, with 91 awards in total given out, plus more for those who could not attend.

The evening began with an introduction by Mountain Times Publications Publisher Gene Fowler and an invocation by Zepeda.

After eating a meal catered by CR Catering of Boone and listening to the smooth sounds of the Todd Wright Trio, Fowler introduced the keynote speaker Julie O’Dell, who is senior vice president, chief administrative officer and ethics officer with Lenoir-based utility cooperative Blue Ridge Energy.

O’Dell’s speech focused on how to be the best.

“I’m a firm believer that it actually comes from within and that it’s deep rooted,” O’Dell said on what it takes to be the best. “We must desire to be the best and that’s absolutely a word you do not take lightly.”

“Nobody here is average tonight,” O’Dell added.

O’Dell shared quotes from the Bible and other books and influential figures.

“Leadership is nothing more than character with action, a conscious choice to just do it,” O’Dell quoted.

Self-control, kindness, honesty, being humble, listening to others, showing respect, showing appreciation to others, learning to forgive and showing unconditional love were the themes O’Dell asked the audience to focus on going forward.

“I am of the belief that ... the seven most important words in the English language are, ‘I made a mistake, I am sorry,’” O’Dell said.

Building character should be a lifelong practice, and will benefit everyone around you, O’Dell added.

O’Dell implored the crowd to avoid being average, saying it’s a failure of potential.

Fowler echoed O’Dell’s remarks.

“When you are the best, there’s only one place to go and it’s a struggle to stay there,” Fowler remarked.

Blowing Rock hires Shane Fox as new town manager

BLOWING ROCK — Blowing Rock’s new town manager might be coming from Cleveland County, but he’s no stranger to the High Country.

The Blowing Rock Town Council unanimously voted to hire 40-year-old Shane Fox as its new town manager during a brief meeting on April 24.

“I’m truly humbled to be here in the town of Blowing Rock,” Fox said after his hiring was approved. “Being here is truly a dream.”

“It’s fulfilling to me to work in a professional town like Blowing Rock,” Fox added.

Fox will be sworn in as the new town manager on Monday, June 3, at 8:30 a.m., when he will begin his duties.

“You immediately rose to the top for me,” Councilwoman Virginia Powell told Fox. “It wasn’t a hard decision.”

According to the contract Fox signed on April 24, he will be paid at a yearly rate of $100,000 through January 15, 2020, at which time the council will conduct a performance review for the preceding six months and potentially give Fox a salary increase.

The $100,000 is an increase from the $95,400 a year that prior town manager Ed Evans made.

According to a statement from the town of Blowing Rock, Fox will relocate from Shelby, where he is currently serving as the chief financial officer and assistant county manager for Cleveland County.

“Shane Fox has been an asset to Cleveland County Government as our chief financial officer not only working with finance and budget but Shane is also responsible for overseeing seven of the county’s operational departments,” Cleveland County Manager Brian Epley said. “Shane has helped lead several transformational projects during his time with Cleveland County including a countywide software system upgrade, several capital projects and the hiring and transition of our new EMS Director. I want to thank Shane for his work with Cleveland County and I wish him well in his new role as town manager of Blowing Rock.”

“Serving as CFO, Fox led development and implementation of an annual $150 million budget,” the April 24 release from Blowing Rock stated. “During his tenure, Fox was instrumental in providing oversight to (Cleveland) County’s capital projects and developing several reengineering processes that resulted in significant savings to (Cleveland) County.”

Prior to working for Cleveland County, Fox served for more than two years as the executive director of the High Country Council of Governments in Boone, leading a team that served 26 local governments within the High Country, according to Blowing Rock’s announcement. The HCCOG provides planning, consultation, aging and workforce services.

Fox also spent 15 years in public accounting in Hickory and Burlington before starting his career in government management.

A native of Granite Falls, Fox graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting, according to the April 24 statement from Blowing Rock

Fox told council that while growing up in Caldwell County, he would often visit Blowing Rock with his family.

Fox, his wife, Jennifer, and their three children, Ryan, Caroline and Owen, will be moving to the Blowing Rock fire district in the coming weeks, a requirement stipulated by his contract. Fox told the council he has already found a house and will be hoping to close on it May 31. Per his contract, Fox can receive moving reimbursements of up to $5,000 and temporary housing payments for up to three months at $1,500 per month.

Interim Town Manager Jim Freeman will remain in his position until June 3, when he will then stay on with the town on a “very part-time basis,” as described by Mayor Charlie Sellers, for six to eight months to aid Fox in the transition.

Councilmembers Doug Matheson and Jim Steele complimented Freeman for his service, with Matheson saying that Fox has some big shoes to fill.

“We are a blessed town, we really are, and have been for years and years,” Steele said. “We’re blessed to get a man like (Fox). We were blessed to get Mr. Freeman.”

Councilmembers Sue Sweeting and Powell told Fox that he has a great staff to work with.

“None of us could have kept this ship sailing without such a strong staff,” Powell said. “We just need a captain.”

The hiring of Fox ends a search process that started in November. The Blowing Rock Town Council elected in December to conduct the search internally, with finalists interviews in late March and early April. A total of 48 applications were received for the position.

Previously, Evans submitted his resignation as Blowing Rock town manager in October, effective Nov. 30, after less than two years on the job. Evans is semi-retired, currently working as interim town manager in North Wilkesboro through June.

Prior to Evans, Scott Fogleman resigned after three years as Blowing Rock town manager in September 2016. Fogleman currently work as the facilities director of Chik-fil-A in Boone with his wife, Terese, who is the owner and operator of the store.

Frontier Natural Gas making Watauga priority in expansion efforts

Frontier Natural Gas operates out of Elkin and serves six different North Carolina counties.

WATAUGA — Frontier Natural Gas is looking to expand its services in Watauga and Ashe counties during the next five years, according to General Manager Fred Steele.

Frontier — certified by the N.C. Utilities Commission — operates out of Elkin and serves six different counties, Steele said. He and two other Frontier representatives approached the Watauga County Commissioners on April 2 to discuss the company's plans for expansion. Steele said Frontier is required by the NCUC Pipeline Safety division to reach out to public officials and educate them on their services.

Steele said Frontier currently services less than 40 percent of Watauga County, and sees it as one of the areas with the most growth potential.

In the coming fiscal year, Steele said Frontier has plans for about five natural gas projects in Watauga. These include Dogwood Knoll Road in Stony Fork, Kellwood Drive in Boone, N.C. 105 Bypass to the Watauga campus of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, Eastbrook Drive in Boone and the Poplar Hill area.

Kim Foley, a sales associate with Frontier, said she would go door to door to places in project areas to notify people of the projects about a month before work would start.

Following the commissioners meeting, Steele met with County Manager Deron Geouque to discuss the possibility of extending a line to the Watauga County Detention Center. This project would be a “huge benefit to the county,” Geouque said.

Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, Beech Mountain and Seven Devils are places Frontier would like to reach in its long-term plan, Steele said. Frontier is planning to work on gaining additional gas supply in order to expand into those areas.

“We’ve been having meetings with pipelines since late last year and we’re going to continue to have those meetings in an effort to come up with ways to get to those unserved areas currently,” Steele said.

These projects can range anywhere from $300,000 to $1.5 million per project, Steele said. He said 90 percent of these projects are being funded by Frontier Natural Gas. Each project is looked at under a feasibility model as required by NCUC. Steele said if the project doesn’t pass the model, Frontier speaks with the particular individual or customer about what it calls “contribution in aid of construction.”

Once a feasibility model is completed and the project passes, Frontier staff come up with engineering plans, apply for project permits, acquire land easements and then start the construction process.

Jeff Whitaker, working in materials/purchasing with Frontier, told commissioners he offers a two-hour training to first responders and emergency officials on how to safely respond to a situation with natural gas. Whitaker said part of the presentation is 811 awareness to warn people that they should call officials before digging in an area in case a gas line is near.

Steele said any groups of people who would like to receive this training are able to call Frontier and set up a time to do so.

Frontier is partnering with Appalachian State University and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce for an event on May 10 before the App State baseball game. Steele said Frontier plans to bring maps of its project areas to gauge community interest, and plans to buy refreshments for visitors.

Steele said now is a great time for people to do conversions to natural gas as the price of the fuel is trending downward. He said it typically costs less than propane and electric.

Steele urged community members who are seriously interested in learning more about getting natural gas to their area to reach out to (336) 526-2690. For more information on Frontier Natural Gas, visit