Annual TAG Planning Session Explores Keys to Economic Readiness

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Local economic developers representing all 11 Southeastern counties joined 15 partners and allies for a planning session in Fayetteville, hearing presentations from noted experts on a wide range of topics. N.C. Southeast’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) organizes the event each year.

Presenters at the February 13-14 gathering included Jay Garner, founder of Atlanta-based Garner Economics, LLC, a leading location advisory firm. Mr. Garner’s presentation, “Are We on the Same Page? What Makes Good Communities Great,” provided insight on how economic development professionals can best position their communities and regions for successful interaction with site consultants, who typically handle higher-dollar site searches. “Location decisions are based on regions,” Mr. Garner explained, just as the benefits that accompany new industrial operations are spread regionally. “Market yourself regionally, but sell yourself locally,” he advised the group.

Regulatory and tax reform, especially in regards to the treatment of small businesses and entrepreneurs, were high priorities for Governor Pat McCrory, according to Tony Almeida, a top economic adviser to the new governor. Mr. Almeida outlined key themes and issues affecting North Carolina’s economy and business community. Despite one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, many business owners in the state report not being able to fill open positions with qualified workers. The Administration will soon begin drafting a statewide economic strategy that it hopes to complete by July, Mr. Almeida said. Among other objectives, the new plan would consolidate various strategies and programs designed to maximize North Carolina’s military economy.

TAG members were briefed on grant-funding opportunities from Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach. The Rocky Mount-based foundation is eager to partner with communities in eastern North Carolina, which has been under-represented in funding activity over recent years, Gerlach said. Maureen Little, associate vice president of the North Carolina Community College System, reviewed customized training programs that are available to new and existing employers in the state. Such programs are proving key in supporting the emergence of “lean” manufacturing operations in North Carolina, she said. Attorneys Richard Crow and Murali Baysham reviewed the federal government’s EB5 Immigrant Investor program, which helps bring foreign investment dollars into the U.S. in exchange for permanent residency status for overseas investors. Projects driven by EB5 funds are complex from both legal and financial standpoints, Mr. Baysham cautioned. Still, the U.S. Immigration Service approves about 80 percent of the 4,000 annual applications now coming into the program, Mr. Crow said.

“The annual planning session is one of the most visible ways the Southeast Commission engages in the sort of team-building that is so critical in regional economic development,” says TAG Chairman John Swope, director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission. “It’s also the best opportunity many of us have to hear from top state and national experts about trends in our profession.”