Chamber hosts membership appreciation lunch

The Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce membership appreciation luncheon was held on Friday, May 18, 2012 at The Center at Texas State Technical College.Jacque McCoy, the Chamber's Executive Director, welcomed the group before turning the luncheon over to Rodney Foster, the President of the Chamber board who also served as master of ceremonies. An invocation was given by Carolyn Lawrence, and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Vickie May.Foster made several introductions of audience members, including Lawrence as City Comptroller, Nolan County Judge Tim Fambrough, Sweetwater ISD Superintendent Terry Pittman, and new Sweetwater Police Chief Brian Frieda. The Chamber of Commerce board members in attendance were introduced and recognized--which included May, Pittman, Donna Boatright, Gene Parsons, Kathleen Butler and Julie McLemore.Foster then introduced the three guest speakers for the event: Boatright from Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital (RPMH), Pittman from Sweetwater Independent School District (SISD) and Gabriel Acosta from EMA Electromechanics.Boatright spoke on the exciting changes and successes from the past year, notably through the renovation projects recently undertaken. Several air conditioning units, the boiler system and lighting had been in place since the hospital's inception in 1976.Through their work with McKinstry, RPMH was able to replace the antiquated equipment. As a result, energy consumption has radically decreased, with around $100,000 savings in utility cost reported since October 2011.Phase 1 of the project is near completion, which also included a new nurses' station. Several hallways have been completed while work continues on other halls. A ribbon cutting for the new area has been tentatively set for June 18th.A new project that has begun at RPMH are the medical office spaces. Significant growth in staff has been seen, including the addition of two doctors within the past eight months. The 18,000 square foot building will be able to house all current physicians and will be able to offer spacing for any future doctors.Overall, the hospital staff, administration and board members are pleased with the improvements, and RPMH hopes to be able to continually meet patient needs in a local setting.The second speaker, Superintendent Pittman, discussed the recent changes within the district's coaching staff through the new athletic director Shane Mobley. He noted that he is excited for Mobley and his desire to make the athletic program an all-inclusive department.Enrollment were mentioned, in that while 2210 students are enrolled, contrasting numbers are seen at both ends of the district. Southeast Elementary houses 407 combined kindergartners and first graders, while the junior and senior classes make up 225 of the entire student population.Demographics are continually changing, including areas of reduced student lunches, special education, race and socio-economics. Average class sizes were presented as well for the elementary grades: kindergarten-21, 1st grade-19, 2nd-19, 3rd-18, 4th-20 and 5th-22.5. Secondary class averages were 10.5 in English, 13 in Math, 14 in Science and 16 in Social Studies.In addition, the district currently has 381 staff members; 177 of those are teachers. While budget cuts were made last year and are expected to continue next year, Pittman noted that the district continually strives to meet the needs of the students. SISD is also working with McKinstry, earning $1.1 million in free air conditioning through the "Cool Schools" grant. This summer, the district will undergo changes such as light replacements toward energy management savings which will impact the entire district.Also coming up for the district are other school finance issues, as the Board of Trustees will be discussing taxes and a possible tax ratification election. The hope is to change the tax rate, which would give the district around an additional $400,000. SISD's tax rate, in comparison, is lower than several other districts in the area.Challenges lie ahead for not only SISD but all school districts within the state, as 60,000 parents of the 70,000 new students entering Texas schools are not paying taxes. Medicaid--along with education--will also play a role in the next legislative session, but Pittman stressed that the goal of SISD is to educate students the best way possible.Acosta was the final speaker for the luncheon, who was joined by a fellow associate from the company. Originally founded in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the 1950s, EMA Electromechanics provides low, medium or high-voltage equipment for the electric market. Ten years ago, as a result of the wind energy boom, the company developed and sold the technology in Argentina.In 2007, EMA's owner met with Ken Becker--the executive director of SEED (Sweetwater Enterprise for Economic Development), which led to some of the company's production being moved to Sweetwater. By June 2010, the partnership came to fruition as production began.Today the company has around twenty employees, and the market participation has greatly increased. Acosta said that he was grateful for the help from SEED and was happy to be in Sweetwater--offering praise to the people and community.The company manufacturers breakers which help to protect the wind farm generators, which are divided into small groups. This allows the developer to stop sections for repair, instead of the entire generator.The breaker also boasts several switches for use, which is important for connections and cabling. If the entire machine were to be shut down, revenue would be lose and prove to be costly.Since 2003, the breakers have been sold. Annually, around 170 to 200 breakers are sold, with a 40% increase noted so far in 2012. While one-third of the breakers play a part in wind energy transfer, around half of the breakers are made in Sweetwater. The plan is for the product to expand beyond the local and national market to other areas.