SANFORD, N.C. — Jim Brophy, a community leader who retired earlier this year as plant operations manager for Caterpillar, will be honored next week by several industry and civic groups.
Presentations will be made during a ribbon cutting for the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, scheduled for November 17 at the chamber's new location, 211 South Steele Street. The celebration runs from 4 to 6 p.m. and is open to the public.
Brophy earned acclaim in recent years for his role in expanding Caterpillar's operation in Sanford, a project that attracted Gov. Bev Perdue to its announcement and later earned Caterpillar and Lee County Economic Development the 2011 Space Economic Development Award for Existing Industry from the Triangle Business Journal.
Caterpillar is now closing in on the end of its $28.3 million project, which includes a new building, additional machinery and 325 positions added to the company's workforce. An economic impact study estimates the new positions will generate roughly $95 million in output each year and a total of 474 jobs locally, as suppliers and related companies move people to the area to work with Caterpillar's expanded operation.
The project not only kept the company viable in Sanford — maintaining existing jobs that could have been lost if the project had landed elsewhere — but contributed significantly to the overall economic climate during a time when many communities saw no industrial expansions at all.
But Brophy's influence extended far beyond the recent plant expansion or his own company. Lee County economic development director Bob Heuts says Brophy has been deeply involved in creating a business climate that makes the area more attractive to companies.
"Jim is one of the people we've called first when we needed help, whether it was recruiting a new company to the area or deciding what kind of policy will make us even more attractive to companies worldwide," says Heuts. "Even though he was always busy, whenever we called, he stepped up to the plate."
Over the last year, Brophy has been a driving force on the advisory group for Project PK-14, an effort led by the United Way to enhance local education by increasing parental involvement in the schools, promoting safer schools, supporting effective teaching initiatives in the classroom and helping students develop a life plan.
United Way executive director Jan Hayes says that industrial perspective has been critical to the project's success, and Brophy's vast experience in manufacturing, management and global business has helped leaders across the community understand what it takes to succeed in today's competitive environment.
In fact, it's education where Brophy may have made his greatest contribution outside of manufacturing.
Jeffrey Moss, superintendent of the Lee County Schools, says Brophy was the "true voice" in developing a course that will allow high school students develop essential personal and business skills before graduating. Though it's still being developed, the current version includes topics like leadership, communication skills, civic participation and ethics.
"Jim Brophy has a true passion for public education," says Moss. "Jim opened the door to Caterpillar and, more importantly, to their curriculum. He has set the stage to ensure success for Lee County graduates as they transition into private business."
Heuts has already developed a strong relationship with Brad Crace, who has replaced Brophy as Caterpillar's plant operations manager, and expects the company to continue its influential role in local manufacturing. At the same time, he understands that someone like Brophy doesn't come around all that often.
Others agree. Central Carolina Community College President Bud Marchant has worked with Brophy on several community initiatives, including Project PK-14, and sees a lasting legacy for the retiring industry leader.
"Jim has always believed in being active in the community; from the United Way to industry advisory groups, he was always there," Marchant says. "Jim always advocated for manufacturing and making sure that the skills people need to succeed in the workplace were taught and respected.
"Sanford and the entire Central Carolina region have greatly benefited from having Jim Brophy as part of it."
The Lee County Economic Development Corp. is a nonprofit organization established to attract industry, enhance job opportunities and promote sound planning across Lee County. Funding is provided by the county, as well as the City of Sanford and Town of Broadway, the county's two municipalities.
Bob Heuts, Director
Jane Wesley, Administrative Assistant