03/10/08 — Towns form development alliance

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Towns form development alliance

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 10, 2008 1:56 PM

Nearly six months after a series of recommendations for creating economic opportunities in northern Wayne County was laid out for them, leaders in Pikeville, Fremont and Eureka have finally selected their task force members and plan to begin work in early April.

It's an effort that has roots going back several years.

"We started talking about this two years ago (with Fremont) and then we invited Eureka to come in and now it looks as if it's finally getting off the ground," Pikeville Mayor Herb Seiger said. "But it's going to be a long-term project."

The recommendations, which resulted from a comprehensive assessment of the three towns by The Sanford Holshouser Business Development Group, were given to the communities in mid-September. At the top of the list was the creation of the Northern Wayne Task Force.

"If they move forward with this first step of creating the task force and continue this momentum, they can have some success. But that first step is crucial," Crystal Morphis, a managing partner with Sanford Holshouser, said at the time. "I think they all see that there is a critical need to grow these communities and that they can only do that by working together."

Once the task force is officially in place, the assessment recommends it begin looking at:

* Recruiting residents to participate in leadership development through Leadership Wayne County and a local government education program.

* Encouraging residents to participate in Wayne County by getting involved with countywide committees, commissions and governing bodies such as the Board of Education, the Wayne County Development Alliance Board, the Wayne County Library board and the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.

* Conducting a joint utilities review of the three town's water, sewer and electrical systems.

* Expanding outreach programs from Wayne Community College into the three towns.

* Partnering with Wayne County to identify and develop new industrial and business parks and construct shell buildings.

* Pursuing grant opportunities, either individually or jointly.

* Improving the appearance of downtown areas in all three towns.

* Attracting military families.

* Inventorying and identifying historic homes and resources for restoring them.

* Improving the region's image, both among residents and the rest of the county and state.

Each town also has goals specific to their own situations and resources.

But the main focus of the task force will be figuring out how all three towns can best work together as a region.

"The three of us are all working together to do this," Seiger said. "We're thinking that if the three of us work together, we can have a little more clout."

And, with I-795 opening up possibilities in the northern end of the county, officials said now is the right time to begin such an effort.

"We want to create more businesses, increase our tax base and create more jobs for Wayne County and this area. There's been a lot of growth in the Mount Olive area and around Goldsboro, and we just want to duplicate what they're doing up here. We just want to create some economic development in the northern part of the county," Fremont Town Manager Kerry McDuffy said.

But first, the task force needs to set a direction.

"The goal is to look at these recommendations and really prioritize them," Wayne County Development Alliance president Joanna Thompson said. "Some of them are very short-term. Others are long-term. But we need to let those citizens (on the task force) decide which of the recommendations their priorities are."

The plan is for the task force to meet about once a month for the next year. It will be led and facilitated by N.C. Eastern Region president Al Delia.

"He's got a lot of experience in economic development issues," Ms. Thompson said. "We wanted somebody from outside Wayne County, but who still had a vested interest in and knowledge of eastern North Carolina."

Plus, she added, the Eastern Region can bring a lot of resources to help with the task force's efforts.

The key, however, will be maintaining the momentum after this initial 12 months.

"We're going to be with them every step of the way, but it's up to them. At the end of the day it's still going to be the towns' decision and the towns' ability," Ms. Thompson said. "And it's going to take community involvement. It can't just be the staff at the town hall."