What time is it in North Carolina for economic development?
That was the question N.C. Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland posed to Impact Wayne investors during their annual meeting Wednesday at the Maxwell Center.
Impact Wayne, the private-public fundraising arm of the Wayne County Development Alliance, is in the midst of its second five-year strategic plan to implement an aggressive public and private economic development initiative in the county.
Copeland answered his own question by saying when he was appointed in 2017, the state had gone through a slump for a few years and that the Commerce Department had been ripped apart.
Its budget was taken apart and social legislation was keeping companies from coming to the state, he said. Copeland did not call the legislation by name, but was referring to House Bill 2, also known as the bathroom bill.
That bill was overturned and the state was back in business and the economy was “roaring,” he said. Since that time, the state has added 46,000 jobs, which have been announced through the Commerce Department, Copeland said.
During the first three years of the century, the state was losing about 60,000 jobs a year through manufacturing closures, he said.
“What time is it?” he said. “We are the ninth most populous state. We have an economy larger than Sweden, and we are growing by a number larger than High Point every year.
“Fifty percent of all North Carolina residents are non-native. Our unemployment rate has ticked up a bit with 4.1 percent. The national rate is 3.6. The reason our number keeps ticking up is because people are re-entering the workforce and inward migration.”
One thing that makes the state attractive is that on any given day, more than 700,000 students are enrolled in community colleges, Copeland said. Also, the state is turning out about 55,000 university graduates annually, he said.
“It is workforce,” Copeland said. “I would say that we have a workforce shortage today. We did some polling ... 75 percent of rural employers who advertised for employees are getting no applicants.
“I am not talking about qualified. I am talking about they are getting zero. So the thing we are facing today is probably finding workforce and keeping workforce as a supply chain.”
Workforce is the driving issue behind everything that is going on today, Copeland said.
“If you are a company looking to expand in either aerospace, IT, life sciences or finance, you have to look at North Carolina just because of the workforce,” he said. “Our economy is robust and bursting at the seams.”
Economic projects look at three things before making a decision on where to locate, and workforce is the first, Copeland said.
Next is infrastructure — railroads and highways are important, and broadband is incredibly important, he said.
Counties that are 40 miles or farther from natural gas lines will never get manufacturing, Copeland said.
“So when I hear rural economic development with no funding for infrastructure, that is sort of a contradiction in terms,” he said. “Fifty percent of most workers commute outside of their home county.”
The next thing is taxes and incentives, Copeland said.
North Carolina has about the lowest corporate income tax of any state that has that kind of tax, he said.
The state also has some of the most reputable and respected incentives in the country, Copeland said. It is important to maintain that integrity going forward, he said.
“We do not give cash up front,” Copeland said. “It is basically based on jobs that are created, and it comes as a return on payroll taxes.
“You are sitting in a really great, unique spot combined with all of those things going forward.”
Copeland also lobbied for support of Gov. Roy Cooper’s push to expand Medicaid.
As a proponent of expansion, Copeland said he perhaps should look more on the human side.
However, there is an economic development side as well, he said.
The expansion would create about 43,000 jobs in the state, including 450 in Wayne County, while providing health care to about 500,000 people statewide and preventing the closure of rural hospitals.
“I can assure you, no company is coming to where they expect their employees to drive two hours to get to hospital, and we are seeing rural hospitals close one after another,” Copeland said.
Also, a recent study predicts the expansion would reduce corporate health care cost by 7 percent, which is substantial, he said.
“So I would urge you to look at that from a pure economic standpoint,” Copeland said.
$1.1 MILLION CAMPAIGN
The Impact Wayne campaign, which started in 2016, has approximately 75 investors. The goal is $1.1 million, with $1,611,500 in committed pledges thus far.
“We will be back out trying to be positive and have another successful campaign coming up so we will be back to talk to you,” said Mark Pope, Wayne County Development Alliance president. “But we are on track.”
The total collected to date is $716,300, Pope said.
The campaign goals are $225,000 for business retention and expansion; $375,000 for business development and marketing; $375,000 for product development; and $125,000 for investor relations and development assistance program.
“We are on target,” he said. “We will end this up next year so we will be out doing other things, trying to grow our community, our products to make sure that we are visible.
“Once you grow product, you have to have product and it isn’t a bean field. We want to have metal in the air.”
Pope provided updates on the county’s industrial parks and efforts to develop an agricultural corridor along U.S. 117, an aerospace corridor along U.S. 70 and a distribution corridor along Interstate 795.
The goal is to have buildings in those corridors that can be marketed, Pope said.
In other business, David Perry of Goldsboro Builders Supply, was elected as the new chairman for Impact Wayne, replacing Mount Olive Mayor Joe Scott.