Exciting Changes for Regional Economic Development in Eastern NC

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North Carolina’s Eastern Region (NCER) has reached another milestone as it transitions from a public to private entity and positions itself to be the go-to provider of economic development services in eastern NC. A preliminary plan was vetted by regional leaders and a report with its findings has been issued. The results provide NCER with a clear set of priorities as it crafts strategies to move forward with a well-defined program of work as a non-profit (currently known as North Carolina’s Eastern Alliance or NCEA).

North Carolina’s Eastern Region (NCER) has reached another milestone as it transitions from a public to private entity and positions itself to be the go-to provider of economic development services in eastern NC. A preliminary plan was vetted by regional leaders and a report with its findings has been issued. The results provide NCER with a clear set of priorities as it crafts strategies to move forward with a well-defined program of work as a non-profit (currently known as North Carolina’s Eastern Alliance or NCEA).

National Community Development Services (NCDS) conducted private face-to-face and phone interviews over the past 2 months with nearly 60 regional leaders in which it measured feedback on the proposed regional economic development plan. NCDS obtained opinions on the region’s current economic climate, effectiveness of existing NCER staff, economic development strategy, attitudes toward the preliminary plan, and the ability to raise funds to support the proposed program of work.

The plan was developed in May 2013 by the NCER board and staff in response to a recent shift in economic development, spearheaded by Governor McCrory and the NC legislature to privatize economic development efforts in North Carolina.

“At NCDS we have a 36 year track record of building capacity for non-profit organizations, many like NCER in the economic development arena,” said Tom DiFiore, President of National Community Development Services. 

“Through the series of interviews we conducted, we’ve been able to provide the NCER staff and board with a clear perspective from regional stakeholders on the strategy it should engage in as it moves forward as a non-profit,” DiFiore added.

Key findings from the study made it clear that the region should focus on a few specific efforts which will have a transformational impact for eastern NC.  Two thirds (65.4%) of respondents characterized the current regional economic climate as fair to poor and nearly half said they were unsure about the current economic development activities in the region.

When asked to assess the proposed economic development plan, interviewees stated regional efforts should be more focused moving forward.  An overwhelming majority, 90.6%, believe cluster-based marketing and regional branding are somewhat important or a must do. Workforce development/training also rose to the top of the list. Over the past 5 years NCER has provided $1.25 million for workforce development initiatives and the value of it resonated loudly with regional leadership – 73.6% agreed that NCER’s efforts in a regional approach to education and training that better connects employers to the classroom is critical to the future development of the region. Nearly 72% made known that institutional, transportation and infrastructure advocacy is an important element of a successful plan for eastern NC.

A key element of the assessment was the strong level of trust displayed for current NCER staff, based upon prior work and level of expertise. “I’m encouraged by the report. It exposes a few  weaknesses in terms of what we need to do going forward, but, I am very confident we can undertake a campaign to inform people of what we’ve done and what we will be doing.  We understand the need to more fully engage the private sector going forward in order to gain their support and achieve the level of success we all want for eastern North Carolina,” said John Chaffee, President & CEO of NCER. 

At its August 8th board meeting, NCER commissioners gave the feasibility report its full support and indicated that it intends to move forward with the next steps. NCER will convene a regional economic development task force to help refine the plan and validate the new public-private partnership structure. These individuals will be engaged in a series of high-profile meetings which will provide direction on the geography of the region, obstacles and opportunities for growth, governance structure, performance metrics and other guidance.

“The challenge before us is demonstrating our same ability and capability in delivering on project and lead generation as we have on workforce development,” said Chaffee. “While we have been the lead agency for our region in several recent projects like Sanderson Farms, Medicago, Chemtex, Garelec and others that have recently located in North Carolina, we know we need to increase our efforts to bring more opportunities to our local developers.”

NCER anticipates its transition to its new private entity to be complete before July 1, 2014. 

North Carolina’s Eastern Region is a regional economic development agency serving 13 counties from I-95 to the coast. For more information visit North Carolina’s Eastern Region’s website (www.nceast.org).