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Farmville Central coach Larry Williford stands next to seniors, from left, Brandon Knight, Jayden Pitt, T.J. Perkins and Jah Short after Saturday’s victory against Reidsville.

Minges Bottling Group announces expansion, April 18 groundbreaking to coincide with century celebration

Minges Bottling Group is marking its centennial with the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility in Ayden, the company announced Monday.

The planned 223,375-square-foot structure will include a new warehouse, administrative and sales offices, space for vending repair and a three-bay fleet maintenance shop.

An April 18 groundbreaking ceremony has been scheduled at the site of the new facility, on Pepsi Way, Ayden. The ceremony will coincide with the company’s centennial celebration, marking 100 years of distributing soft drinks and other beverages in eastern North Carolina.

“I am extremely proud that our family has stayed united and strong for 100 years,” said Jeff Minges, president and CEO. “We continue to build this legacy in the soft drink business, as we now transition into fourth-generation ownership and executive leadership. This new facility gives us the opportunity to continue to grow, while allowing us to stay true to our mission of investing in the communities we serve in eastern North Carolina.”

Minges Bottling Group is a family-owned and operated Pepsi-Cola franchise located in Ayden. It’s current location opened in 2003.

The company needs more space because of continued product innovation, broadening beverage categories and growing consumer demands, according to a company news release.

“This growth came fast and furious in the form of brand diversification, not only in the carbonated soft drinks category, but also in the hydration, isotonic and ready to drink coffee categories,” said Landon Minges, vice president of operations. “Consumer demand for brand extensions and new flavors has compounded the need for additional space.”

PepsiCo also implemented a distribution model change that allows franchise bottlers to deliver all Gatorade products directly to large format and supermarket segments of the business.

This change alone will increase the company’s distribution volume by more than 800,000 cases annually, the release said.

This was the catalyst that challenged the Minges family and the board of directors to make the decision to build the new facility.

“In an ever-changing environment we need to be forward thinking and in a full distribution mindset, looking 20 -30 years down the road” Miles Minges, vice president of sales and marketing, said. “Adding Gatorade to our trucks will mark a true test for us here at Minges Bottling Group, allowing us to max out our orders to be more efficient. We are excited about the opportunity and ready to hit the ground running!”

Minges Bottling Group currently employs 230 individuals across its 13-county territory in eastern North Carolina. As a result of the increased volume and continued brand diversification, the company will hire an additional 23 employees, ranging from warehouse load teams, sales delivery drivers, customer sales representatives and support staff.

Arts in the park starts new season with ‘stellar day'

GRIFTON — A new festival series that features music and arts vendors and a place for businesses and nonprofits to promote themselves kicked off its second season last weekend along Contentnea Creek.

More than 100 people and 40 vendors gathered for Grifton Arts in The Park on March 5 at the Contentnea Creekside Overlook Park to enjoy nice weather and hear live performances from local musicians and the Low Tide String Band.

“This is our fifth event that we’ve had,” said Grifton resident Amy Hahn, who coordinates the event with Joseph Scott and other volunteers to create a “family town feel” in Grifton.

“We had events last year and this is our kickoff for the season; we have 42 vendors, some nonprofit organizations that came out and volunteered, youth groups volunteered to help with free face painting, we have Fairy Hair out here, we even have a free book table to promote literacy, and the Lions Club came out to do vision screenings.”

Veronica Bradford of Quality Design Services was there to promote the graphic design business that initially started as an inspirational, funny, all-occasion T-shirt business.

“As a new business owner I ran into challenges when I first started, and what I endeavored to do is to help other small businesses and entrepreneurs actually overcome those challenges,” Bradford said.

Events like Grifton Arts in The Park are exactly what small businesses need, she said. “Oftentimes when you’re starting out as a small business you don’t have a lot of capital, you need that extra push to be able to market your business, and this is actually a godsend to have an event like this to come out and showcase your small business.”

Kelly Pruitt and Allison Watson with Mystic Vibes are independent consultants for Paparazzi accessories. They were selling $5 jewelry.

“I grew up in Ayden, which is very close to Grifton; I have family that lives here in Grifton, and we’ve been doing Arts in the Park ever since they started,” said Pruitt. “We just love it because it’s always just nice out here and we love the people,” said Pruitt.

Sam Weatherly of the Low Tide String Band said that he and his bandmates, Brad and Karen Brechtelsbauer, have been performing together since 2016 out of Greenville and they came out early to help set up the sound for some of the earlier performers. “We do Americana folk country,” said Weatherly. “We perform at little functions like this, festivals and local bars.”

After their first set that band introduced a 15-year-old from Wilson, Efren Mitchell, who performed in between their sets.

Weatherly said that they met Mitchell at an open mic night at the Naughty Dog Brewery in Winterville and immediately saw he was talented. “We were impressed by him; he heard about this function and he’s out here performing a few songs himself.”

Events like Arts in the Park are great for people who have a passion for music, Weatherly said. “So we love to see that, and we’re supportive of that. And really the music community in general in this area is super supportive of anybody who wants to do well; Efren wants to grow in his craft, so this is a perfect venue for that.”

Grifton Arts in The Park President Joseph Scott said the beautiful weather, tons of vendors and an outpouring of support made for a “stellar day.” The event was much bigger than previous ones because of the demand for growth that people are wanting in Grifton.

“We’re gonna try to give it to him as much as we can, as long as they keep supporting us we’ll continue to grow,” said Scott. “It means everything to me to see what a good turnout we had today, and it just does my heart so good to see the people of Grifton support this because we do this for the people of Grifton and no one else could just for the people of Grifton the surrounding areas.”

“We’ve taken up this task because we both wanted to see this town come back to life,” said Hahn. “We wanted people to see this beautiful park and enjoy it, not just let it sit here, we wanted them to see that we have talent in this town, we need to promote it, and we need to let it shine.”

Upcoming events will be held at the park on Water Street on the first Sunday in April, May, June, September, October and November.

Expert, officials offer assurances that banking system is safe

As the federal government worked to waylay concern of a banking crisis this week after two major banks failed, the interim chair for East Carolina University’s Department of Economics said their closure was a “robustness” check the industry passed.

Silicon Valley Bank out of Santa Clara, California, suffered the second-largest bank failure in history on March 10, according to the Associated Press. Sunday night, regulators announced that New York-based Signature Bank also failed, the AP reported. At more than $110 billion in assets, Signature Bank is the third-largest bank failure in U.S. history.

It was announced by the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and FDIC on Sunday that all clients for Silicon Valley Bank would be protected and able to access their money, the AP reported. The entities also said steps were announced to prevent additional bank runs, a situation where depositors rapidly withdraw their money.

Nicholas Rupp, a professor and interim chair for ECU’s Department of Economics, said Monday that the closure of Signature Bank and Silvergate, another California-based bank that closed last week, saw similarities in that a majority of their customers were in the cryptocurrency market. He said that when crypto prices took a dip the banks found themselves in trouble as investors moved to comp their assets.

That’s different than the situation facing Silicon Valley Bank, Rupp said. He said reports stated a large majority of its investors were businesses or individuals working with venture capitalist money who had deposits above the $250,000 guaranteed by the FDIC for individual accounts or $500,000 for joint accounts. He said information from a Wall Street Journal article published Saturday and entitled “Silicon Valley Bank’s Meltdown Visualized” depicted the bank’s downturn and other historic bank failures between 2001 and 2023.

Because a large majority of deposit holders held such large deposits, it took fewer customers to pull their money from the bank to cause it to fail, something Rupp called a bad management decision. As the Fed raised interest rates to curb inflation, Rupp said that Silicon Valley Bank failed to diversify its portfolio.

“It’s fine as long as you don’t sell that asset that dropped 25 percent in value,” Rupp explained. “Now, when one of your big ... lenders who deposited money said they want their millions now, I want to go somewhere else with my money, (SVB) has to sell assets that have depreciated and now their balance sheet looks very vulnerable.

“If the bulk of your customers are households, it doesn’t matter if you lose one big client,” Rupp said. “If you flip it the other way around, if most of your deposits are held by a few big clients and a few of those clients decide to move money, (your bank) could be vulnerable.”

Rupp said the swift response by the federal government to announce backing every dollar for depositors, business or household, is a positive move to prevent a loss of trust in the American banking system. He said the move should quiet runs and curb potential panic withdrawals.

The professor added that shareholders are the ones taking a hit, not households or businesses. The announcement that the executives for SVB are being fired is an additional faith-restoring measure.

On Monday U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy of Greenville, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, released a statement standing by the stability of the nation’s banks.

“The situation regarding Silicon Valley Bank, as well as Signature Bank, is a rapidly evolving,” Murphy said. “The United States banking industry remains strong and stable, and the FDIC insurance fund is well funded and has not lost one penny of an insured deposit in its entire history. My office and I will continue to monitor the situation, especially when it comes to the regional banks our local companies depend on.”

Rupp said any impact that could be felt in other banks will come down to the mix of deposits held by the financial entities. He said that in the long run there is a chance that regional banks will see investors shift over to larger entities who are viewed as “too big to fail” in order to ensure their money is protected.

Overall, Rupp said the public should focus on the fact that depositors are not losing their money and that banking is a safer alternative compared to crypto or having money on hand.

“I think, if anything, it’s a robustness check and, if anything, consumers should feel confident their deposits are secure,” Rupp said. “You’ve seen two banks that have failed and the federal government stepped in and said, hey, we’re going to make sure depositors get their money. I think it’s reassuring the federal government does not want bank runs.”

Dale R. Folwell, North Carolina’s treasurer, also released a statement assuring customers that right now the state’s banks are not in the same troubled waters as the closed entities.

“Over the last few days, North Carolina State Banking Commissioner Boskin and I, as chair of the State Banking Commission, have been closely monitoring the situation with Silicon Valley and Signature Banks as well as the 36 banks we regulate at the State Banking Commission,” Folwell said. “The banks we regulate in North Carolina do not have the same number of unsecured deposits and are more diversified than those troubled banks. At this time, the abbreviation ‘NC’ stands for ‘no crisis.’”

State Employees Credit Union also released a statement to reassure customers of the diversity of their depositors.

“In light of recent events, we wanted to take a moment to assure SECU’s members of our continued fiscal strength,” a statement on the credit union’s website said. “As the nation’s second largest credit union with over $50 billion in assets, our deposits come from a diverse array of NC consumers — not any one industry. We are well-capitalized with over $5 billion in equity. Combined with ample liquidity options, your financial cooperative is in a good position to serve you now and into the future.”

Winterville council partially cuts earlier electric rate increase

The Winterville Town Council halved a 5-cent increase in its per kilowatt hour rate with a unanimous vote earlier this week. The 2.5-cent drop will go into effect with the April 30 bills, said Assistant Town Manager Anthony Bowers.

“If we can reduce it further, obviously, we will,” Bowers said.

The Town Council implemented a 5-cent increase on its per kilowatt hour rate in September because its electric supplier, Kings Mountain Energy Center, was raising its wholesale cost because of increases in natural gas prices. The supplier uses natural gas to generate power.

The town’s electric fund was hemorrhaging money, electric director Robert Sutton said. The 5-cent increase allowed the town to prepare for future costs.

In a later interview, Bowers said the town’s electric fund net income was reduced by $333,269 and only had 18 months of cash on hand.

Natural gas costs started fluctuating and in recent weeks has been considerably down, Sutton said.

Staff recommended a partial rollback to ensure the electric fund remained on stable footing, Bowers said.

“We are still not out of the woods yet, so we didn’t want to drop it down to zero. The goal is to make sure we don’t lose money by the end of the fiscal year,” Bowers said.

“The hope is the markets will be able to continue to improve and we can wean off that power cost adjustment as soon as possible.”

Bowers said prior to the September increase, Winterville’s residential per kilowatt hour rate had not increased since 2009.

The increase was beneficial. The town’s December wholesale bill from Kings Mountain Energy Center was the highest in the town’s history because of the four-day cold snap, Bowers said. The price increase covered the costs.

The city also implemented an energy assistance program for qualified residents. They received an $85, one-time credit toward their electric usage.

“That $85 was enough to cover more than what the projected increase was going to be,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Winterville resident Sean Lacov urged the council to reduce electric bills. Lacov presented the council with information showing national natural gas rates were decreasing and urged the council to reduce electric rates.

Lacov left the meeting before their presentation, staff said, the purchase of natural gas is a real time, constantly changing endeavor.

Sutton said the unit cost of gas is difficult to determine because there are different hubs where gas lines intersect before it’s delivered to residential customers.

Kings Mountain is served by a hub that serves the mid-Atlantic region and the pricing is greatly affected by a growing population and usage, Sutton said.

“It’s a supply and a demand issue and the demand has been great but the supply is not as high as we hoped for,” Sutton said.