Chin brings Army, planning board background to new role on city council
Bobby Chin, one of the two newest members of Graham’s city council, may have retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel in 2002, but he remains committed as ever to the military credo of service to country.
Chin, now 73, was commissioned in 1972 through the ROTC program as an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering at LSU before going on to earn a Master’s in Operations Research/Systems Analysis from the Florida Institute of Technology.
Chin and his wife Karen, a multimedia artist who also serves on Graham’s Historic Resources Commission as well as the Graham Historical Museum Advisory Board, have two grown children: a daughter in Virginia and a son in Maryland. The couple originally moved to Alamance County at the invitation of a coworker before buying property in Graham, where they built their current home in 2019. he recalled in a recent interview with The Alamance News.
A deciding factor for moving here was the friendliness he encountered while attending one of the “Thursdays at Seven” concerts in downtown Graham, where Chin also met then-mayor Jerry Peterman. “That had a lot of influence on us coming here,” he explains.
After connecting with a local real estate agent, the Chins looked at property all over Alamance County before finding land on Carolina Circle in Graham to build on. “The last one we looked at is where we currently live,” the new city councilman recalls. “My wife jumped out of the car and said, ‘This is it.’”
“There’s a friendliness and an openness,” Chin says, adding that he was drawn to Graham because its small-town feel reminded him of the small town he grew up in.
Chin grew up in Drew, Mississippi, which today boasts a population of about 2,000. “Its claim to fame is Archie Manning,” the councilman says, referring to the famed NFL quarterback and father to Peyton and Eli Manning, two star quarterbacks who have become NFL legends in their own right.
Chin recalls experiencing the pain of prejudice during his youth in the pre-desegregation Deep South. “I harbored no ill will,” he quickly adds. His family was first-generation Chinese immigrants on his father’s side and second-generation immigrants on his mother’s side, and he was the product of a traditional, arranged Chinese marriage, Chin explains.
“Growing up in Mississippi, you had white society, and then you had black society. As Chinese, our orbit was both of those.” Both Chin’s and a classmate’s fathers had been merchants who relied largely on the black community for the bulk of their business, the new councilman elaborates.
Louisiana became like a “second home” when he went off to college, Chin says. “The people I associated with in Louisiana had a stronger influence on me. LSU was a land-grant college, [and for] the first two years, all of the male students were required to be in ROTC.” He
eventually joined the Pershing Rifles fraternity, a military-oriented national honor society, where he “made friendships that have lasted to this day,” says Chin. He excelled academically – which he attributes to English, history, and science teachers who he says helped lay a strong foundation for his future success.
His father also taught him two important life lessons early on: “You are an American,” his father told him, while emphasizing the need to be fluent in English, Chin recalls.
Chin’s subsequent 30-year military career wasn’t nearly as peripatetic as some might assume. “Besides Army schools, I never got assigned to a divisional post,” Chin explains, adding that he did have assignments that took him and his family to Turkey and Germany, but kept him mostly on U.S. soil.
During his final assignment for the Army, Chin worked in the Pentagon, overseeing a detachment of about a dozen reservists before completing active duty in the mid-1980s and transferring to reserve status. In 1992, he took a job as a senior research scientist with Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit science and technology development company, where he worked until his retirement in 2016.
Military and private-sector career provided strong foundation for Chin’s newest role
“When I look at the jobs I held in the Army and in the private sector, I believe I come well-equipped,” Chin says, pointing to his past experience in areas such as cost analysis and cost-benefit analysis as a potential benefit in his role on the council.
Chin had served a year on Graham’s planning board before joining the race for a seat on Graham’s city council in the November 2021 municipal elections. As a council member, Chin lists his priorities as: guiding the direction of future growth; developing the infrastructure to support a growing community; using taxpayer dollars wisely; and assessing businesses that hope to come to Graham, while also acknowledging that the city doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“Anything that we bring to Graham should benefit our surrounding communities,” the new councilman explains. “I think one of the things that drew us here is a working downtown. There are still things that are coming in regards to business.”
Chin says he would like to see a small-format grocery store open in downtown Graham, similar to one that Trader Joe’s opened in Springfield, Virginia. “I would like a Trader Joe’s that would fit their business model into one of the existing buildings,” he says. “In Springfield, [they] catered to small families or individuals. [Graham] has a lot of residents who can walk downtown, fixed-income residents who could walk.”
“I would hate to see Graham reach the point with the property tax where people living on fixed incomes would have to move. As much as possible, we should balance the tax burden [evenly between residential, commercial, and industrial taxpayers].” – City councilman Bobby Chin.
Chin says he’s also keeping his eye on the fact that a lot of areas in Graham are zoned for light industrial development. “I would like to see industries brought in that would produce something and would provide jobs that would pay enough” for people to live and work in Graham, he says, adding that he doesn’t want to see the city end up being a bedroom community for the Triad and Triangle regions.
“I would hate to see Graham reach the point with the property tax where people living on fixed incomes would have to move. As much as possible, we should balance the tax burden” evenly between residential, commercial, and industrial taxpayers, he explains.
Water/sewer and traffic high top Chin’s list of concerns
Looking beyond the immediate future, Chin acknowledges the city faces expensive capital projects such as water and sewer upgrades and/or replacements. “If we get behind keeping that up to date, it gets much more expensive,” he says. “The adage we had in the Army was deferred maintenance never gets [cheaper].” The city council needs to be thinking about the potential need for construction of another reservoir, or expansion of an existing one and how the city can work with the county and surrounding municipalities to share in the cost “because we are all going to benefit,” says Chin.
“State representatives need to be brought into the conversation” about road improvements that may be needed in and around Graham, Chin says, citing a warehouse proposed for Cherry Lane as an example.
“We didn’t realize until after the fact that the state had designated part of Alamance County as an economic development zone. That had not been shared with the planning board when I was on it. If it had been, I think that would’ve been factored into some of the decisions. Now, a developer [proposes] to build an 800,000-square foot e-commerce center; depending on what he wants, Cherry Lane needs to be widened and strengthened.”
Chin says that, at one time, an interchange had been proposed at Cherry Lane, though it apparently isn’t included among the Department of Transportation’s current “State Transportation Improvement Program,” which outlines scheduling and funding for road improvements that DOT plans to complete throughout the state over the next decade.
In the meantime, Chin is hopeful that he and his fellow council members will work together to better both current and future generations in Graham. “We are asked to be good stewards – take care of the folks who live here,” he says. “We need to have a workforce that’s prepared for whatever comes here. I’m pleased the school system is putting the trades back into the curriculum. Not everyone is meant to go to college. As Chinese, we value education, but we value it in regards to [what it teaches] the individual, whether it’s a skill, critical thinking.” The Chinese philosophy of education also emphasizes the importance of contributing to one’s community, he adds.
Chin also serves as the secretary for Alcovets, a nonprofit organization that provides outreach and education resources for veterans in Alamance County. His hobbies include reading about history, as well as historical and political fiction – and of course furthering his education. Chin says he’s looking forward to taking an online course on American citizenship based on Victor Davis Hanson’s book The Dying Citizen that is being offered through Hillsdale College, a private liberal arts college in Michigan.
Chin and his wife live at 386 Carolina Circle in Graham.