12/05/07 — Eastern Region president outlines future of development organization

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Eastern Region president outlines future of development organization

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 5, 2007 2:08 PM

Marketing Wayne and 12 other counties between Interstate 95 and the coast as "the best part of the best state for business," North Carolina's Eastern Region is working to not only transform the economy, but also to change the culture of economic development.

"Historically, what we did as a region were two things -- we loaned out money to the counties for economic development and we recruited business for the region," N.C. Eastern Region President Al Delia explained to the Goldsboro Rotary Club Tuesday afternoon.

And, he continued, while that is still the organization's basic foundation, it has become more than that.

Over the years, he explained, Eastern Region has learned that economic development consists of three areas -- industry recruitment (15 percent of all new jobs), new businesses/entrepreneurs (15 percent) and expansion of existing industry (70 percent).

"In the past we would try to bring in anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. Whether (eastern North Carolina) was the best place for them to come didn't matter, we tried," Delia said.

But now that focus is narrowing.

In Wayne County, officials are preparing to take part in a six-county push to attract life science industries.

In Duplin (and to a lesser extent in Wayne) the organization will work to prepare the way for the tremendous growth expected to occur in the next few years as the state's military bases -- particularly the U.S. Marine bases -- expand.

Along the coast, as the cost of doing business in traditional marine industry homes such as Florida continues to increase, officials plan to focus on drawing them northward.

Other areas of emphasis include agribusiness and food production, advanced manufacturing and defense contracts.

But perhaps most important, Delia said, is how the idea of industrial recruitment is changing from monetary incentives to market and infrastructure incentives.

Such areas of focus include water and sewer, transportation, education, job training and quality of life -- all issues, he continued, that counties can struggle to confront on their own.

Helping Wayne County with those is not only the organization's ability to help leverage state and federal dollars, but also the $2.3 million it can draw on for projects such as the shell building that helped attract AAR in 2006. Other funds have been used to help fund various studies and surveys for the county and the development alliance.

"One of the things we do is fill the gaps," Delia said. "And Wayne County will have some gaps."

In particular, he continued, the N.C. Eastern Region is prepared to help the county with its workforce development program, is including it in planning for military growth and has made it part of its BioEast Alliance -- a group of six counties put together specifically to help grow and attract life science industries.

"I think eastern North Carolina is in a very strong position for the future," Delia said. "We're the logical next place for growth (outside the Triangle). Even if we did nothing, in the next 20 to 30 years the region would look very different. What economic development is really doing is trying to accelerate that."