02/28/14 — Development chief: More jobs ahead

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Development chief: More jobs ahead

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 28, 2014 1:46 PM

Three industry expansions that could add 245 jobs in Wayne County, and two new projects that could create another 50 to 200, are possible this year, Wayne County Development Alliance President Joanna Helms said Thursday.

"This is forecasting. It is like the weather, so don't hold me to it," she said. "(Alliance vice president) Mike (Haney) has some work going on out there. He has three companies that he is working with right now if they come to fruition, you could see some good job creation.

"We are getting pretty close. I am not saying it is going to happen, but we are making a very short list on two projects. So 2014 is looking like we could have a couple of existing industry announcements and hopefully a new industry announcement."

However, those gains will be tempered somewhat by closings that were announced last year that took about 160 jobs, Mrs. Helms told the group of business, industry and municipal leaders who gathered Thursday night at the Goldsboro Country Club for Impact Wayne's annual investors' meeting.

Impact Wayne adds a private sector component to help boost economic development in Wayne County, said Bob Kornegay, chairman of the Impact Wayne Advisory Committee and a member of the Development Alliance Board.

"Impact Wayne is sort of a public-private partnership where you have municipalities involved," he said. "You have industries that have put their money where their mouth is. They have invested in economic development in Wayne County.

"It has been a great tool. We can do a lot of things. When you have a public-private partnership it sort of loosens the strings of restrictions of what you can do."

The public money, which can only be used for certain things, is kept separate and apart from the Impact Wayne investors' funds that can be used for other things, he said.

Along with the forecast for the coming year, Mrs. Helms reviewed the previous year.

Unemployment in the county was 7 percent in 2013, down from 9 percent in 2012, she said.

While the Development Alliance was not involved, one of the biggest developments last year was the April opening of the $900 million H.F. Lee power plant project, she said.

Also in 2013, ACX opened. It will create 38 jobs and make a $4.7 million investment, she said.

There were several expansion projects -- Balfour Beatty, 29 jobs, $1 million investment; Georgia-Pacific, 20 jobs, $9 million investment; and Mt. Olive Pickle Co., 77,000 square foot production/warehouse space, $4.1 million investment.

Altogether, 33 companies experienced some level of expansion, creating a total of 665 jobs and $44,762,000 in investments, Mrs. Helms said.

One closing cost the county about 10 jobs, she said.

The Development Alliance completed a wage and fringe benefits survey, marketed the Mount Olive shell building and expanded use of social media to drive potential clients to the Development Alliance website, she said.

Wayne County also became the first certified WorkReady Community in the state. The importance of that accomplishment for new industry, as well as expansion, cannot be over emphasized, she said.

"We've got it. We are a slam dunk in work force," Mrs. Helms said. "We can go out and tell a client, tell an existing industry, a new industry, 'When you come to Wayne County, the guesswork is taken out. We have a certified work force. We are a WorkReady Community. We were the first in North Carolina.'"

The county boasts 12,605 people, or 23.3 percent of its labor force, who have Career Readiness Certificates, she said.

"This tells the employer this person has the skills to do the job," she said. "Almost 25 percent of our workforce has a CRC. That is huge. As a matter of fact we had a client this morning looking at a couple of sites in the county, and we talked about this. They said, "Yeah, we know what CRCs are.' They said, 'You have, what did you say, 2 percent?'

"I said, 'No, almost 25.' They said, 'There is no way.' I said, 'Yes,' and they were blown away."

For first time last year, the Alliance hired a lead generation consultant. That led to a "fast and furious" three-day trip to Toronto and visits at 14 companies, she said.

The consultant brought qualified leads that have projects on the books or that are interested in the Southeast, North Carolina or a work force that the county knows it can supply, she said.

It also resulted in 20 conference calls with company leaders who wanted to learn more about North Carolina.

"But we want them to learn more about Wayne County," she said.

Marketing this year will focus on follow-ups on previous contacts, she said

The Alliance will continue to look for sites to acquire and develop. The county has to have something to sell, but it is hard to find all the right pieces in one site, she said.

This year a special look will be given at "in-fill" sites, areas closer to Mount Olive, Fremont and Goldsboro that already have the infrastructure in place, she said.