I greatly appreciate the stated goals of the Pope Center – diversity of thought, respect, quality, and efficiency – however, a recent posting by one of your writers, Jesse Saffron, demonstrated a lack of many of those qualities.
July 1, 2015
Ms. Jenna Robinson, President
The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy
353 E. Six Forks Road
Raleigh, NC 27609
Dear Ms. Robinson,
I greatly appreciate the stated goals of the Pope Center – diversity of thought, respect, quality, and efficiency – however, a recent posting by one of your writers, Jesse Saffron, demonstrated a lack of many of those qualities. Is it really appropriate to denigrate one region of our great state? It prompted me to do something I rarely do, I posted a response on your site to counter many of the misstatements of fact because I’m weary of commentary from writers that apparently haven’t been out of the Triangle or simply haven’t observed what is taking place in the rest of the state. I hardly know where to begin to correct misinformation and fill in key facts that were not mentioned.
Let’s start with population facts. Out of the 42 or so counties in eastern NC (on or east of I-95), only 6 lost population from 2000-2010 while 14 had double-digit growth. One of the fastest growing counties in the state was Pitt (25 percent) with the vibrant small metro area of Greenville-Washington. The city ranks among the 10 largest cities in NC (recently overtaking Asheville) and was 14th for population growth. It trailed several of the coastal counties that are experiencing explosive growth as well as several suburban counties around Charlotte/Raleigh. The average rate of growth for counties adjoining Pitt was +4.4 percent…not quite the desolate wasteland described by Mr. Saffron.
The April 2015 rate of unemployment in Pitt was 5.5 percent, slightly higher than North Carolina as a whole at 5.2 percent, however it is experiencing good job growth. Among the largest private employers are Vidant Health, Patheon (pharmaceuticals), NACCO (Americas HQ and lift truck manufacturing), ASMO (automotive parts), Grady White Boats (headquarters and manufacturing), Metrics (a local start-up recently bought by Mayne Pharma for $100+ million), and Attends Healthcare Products (headquarters and manufacturing). In addition, Penco Products recently relocated their headquarters from Philadelphia to Greenville and 38 of the 40 employees were hired locally; many of the new hires are ECU graduates. The city also claims several locally grown firms: ABC Phones of Greenville (the largest Verizon franchisee in the US), One Source Communications, and Regional Acceptance (acquired by BB&T). Greenville is also home to several tech start-ups – RTI Surgical (an acquisition), CTMG, Kerdea, Game Theory Group are a few and Greenville ranks above Raleigh in PhDs per capita.
Finally, the much maligned Global TransPark (GTP) – conceived by an astute professor in the Triangle, endorsed, launched and still supported by Governor Jim Martin, then short-changed by the state. The envisioned multi-modal industrial park (focused on an airport and 1300 acres donated by Kinston & Lenoir County) won’t be a reality until the US 70 Bypass around Goldsboro is completed in early 2016.
Fortunately, Spirit AeroSystems believed the state would live up to its commitment to develop the multi-modality of the TransPark as originally envisioned and announced it would occupy a 500,000 square foot production facility to make the center fuselage and other components of the new A350 XWB, create over 1,000 jobs and invest at least $500 million. They haven’t reached these targets yet due to delays in the launch of the A350XWB, but they now employ over 400 workers and just doubled their production capacity in response to greater demand from Airbus.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money or the clout of Ross Perot, Jr. who succeeded in developing Alliance Airport in Texas, but we are finally seeing progress at the GTP. I played a small part in the recruitment of Spirit so I know the TransPark’s multi-modality and short drive to the Port of Morehead City were crucial. Proximity to Greenville and its amenities were also important to the site selection team, including the presence of its diverse population and culture. The presence of ECU and its new College of Engineering & Technology proved to be major selling points. Spirit has hired a number of graduates and has taken advantage of the engineering student Capstone projects. This reflects on the importance of regional engagement by a university, especially a university like ECU located in a relatively rural region.
Various programs offered by my organization serve 28 counties, some extremely rural with limited resources, and engagement by university staff, faculty and students is important to us, those counties and many of their key employers. We and our partners have pressed for greater engagement and ECU is responding, much the same as UNC-CH and NCSU have responded to the needs of their region and their state. More to come.
I encourage you to counsel your writers on the importance of stating factual information and not using quotes to mislead readers as to the truth about an individual, a place, a region or an institution. It makes the reader question the quality of research and the validity of the writer’s argument or opinion.
John D. Chaffee
President & CEO