01/17/06 — Businesses look more to region for expansion

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Businesses look more to region for expansion

By Turner Walston
Published in News on January 17, 2006 1:45 PM

Wayne County saw a lot of economic growth in 2005, and that trend should continue, said Steve Hicks, president of the Wayne County of Chamber of Commerce.

"Without a doubt, 2005 was a very memorable year for Goldsboro and Wayne County," Hicks said in an interview.

The Department of Defense's decision to add to the mission of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure process will have a dramatic impact on future economic growth in the area, he said.

During the BRAC process, "it was almost like a cloud was hanging over every military community," Hicks said. Businesses considering relocating to Wayne County waited while the community held its breath, he said. Now that the BRAC decision is final, businesses and residents can exhale, Hicks said.

Hicks credited the Seymour Support Council and the Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee for assisting in the effort to keep Seymour Johnson in Goldsboro.

"We were very successful in making sure that the base remained here, and even, fortunately, gained positions," he said.

Hicks said the BRAC decision continues to have a ripple effect on the community as a whole.

"It really opened the future to accept opportunities from an economic development standpoint," he said. Developers who waited for word from the Department of Defense are now taking action, he said. He pointed to the Berkeley Commons shopping center and recent announcements of industries relocating to the community as signs of growth.

"The real estate and construction businesses seem to be very strong," in Wayne County, Hicks said.

Hicks said one of the Chamber of Commerce's objectives in 2006 will be to promote the area's relocation market. Goldsboro and Wayne County could be attractive to relocating businesses as well as military personnel and retired persons. Services that cater to those segments of the population could thrive, he said.

"That's exciting because that kind of growth really helps every sector of the economy grow," he said.

Hicks said the amount of retiring military personnel who choose to remain in the area has a positive impact on the county's economy. "We are ripe right now to be able to attract a retirement community here," he said. "I think that's something we can really work at."

Another area with potential for growth is travel and tourism, Hicks said. Last fall, the Chamber contracted with the Goldsboro City Council to operate the town's travel and tourism office.

Hicks said the popular image of tourism is one of Hawaiian shirts and cameras.

"Travel and tourism is much more than that," he said. Goldsboro and Wayne County can capitalize on business travel, Hicks said. "That type of travel is more prevalent."

Although Goldsboro might not be mentioned in the same breath as the Outer Banks, Pinehurst or Myrtle Beach, the area has an opportunity to attract those traveling for reasons other than vacation.

"The traveling public spends a tremendous amount of money," he said. "I really see that market continuing to grow."

Hicks said the Chamber would also be shifting its marketing approach this year to attract business travel. Considerations include advertising in business magazines to tout the market here.

Hicks also noted that Goldsboro and Wayne County are in the geographical center of eastern North Carolina. Durham and Research Triangle Park, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Greenville and Jacksonville are within a 100-mile radius from the intersection of U.S. 117 and U.S. 70, he said

Salespeople could use Goldsboro as a base for those major cities, all within an hour and a half's drive, he said.

In the coming year, the Chamber will continue its "There's No Place Like Home" campaign, which includes advertisements on radio and television, to show off Wayne County's ability to provide services needed by business looking to relocate.

"We do have a community here where they can find the things they need," Hicks said.

The effort to make Wayne County attractive to business travelers would include the construction of a convention center, Hicks said.

"There is a need for a meeting space here," he said. "We have companies right here in Goldsboro and Wayne County that are actually holding meetings at Greenville and New Bern in their centers," he said. "Trade shows, sales meetings, those types of things."

Hicks said calls come into the chamber regularly to ask if there is an available meeting space. City council members recently asked the chamber to look at the possibility of such a space when it took over the travel and tourism office, Hicks said.

"We're investigating the feasibility of it, who would utilize it. We're in the process of doing that. I definitely feel there is a real need for a meeting space."

Hicks said the downtown area is undergoing a renewal. He said the success of restaurants Koi Asian Bistro and Torero's have shown developers the area's potential.

"That in itself is going to have on impact. It gives them more confidence in the development of that area," he said.

The fires that destroyed the Wayne Community Building in 2004 and the Paramount Theater in 2005 caused residents to rethink downtown Goldsboro, Hicks said.

"Sometimes tragedy can set the stage for better things to happen," he said. "They gave us an opportunity to look at downtown Goldsboro in a whole new light," he said of the fires.

Hicks said the institutions who have made investments downtown have helped spur the revitalization.

"The major banks here have maintained their presence downtown in a big way," he said. "That lends strength to the idea that it's a good place to do business."

Local leaders are making an effort to make the community better, and that is inspiring others to do the same, Hicks said. The future is bright, he said.

"My hat is off to city and county officials. The public investment is going to cause more private investment, and that's what you really need. You're going to see more people investing in that community."