Regional Footprint Grows with Admission of Craven, Lenoir and Moore

When the board of The Southeastern Partnership approved the addition of three counties, it resulted in an obvious expansion of the Southeast Region’s population, workforce and geographical footprint. But the board’s unanimous vote, made in February, also added numerous industrial sites and parks, military assets, tourism attractions, agricultural resources, workforce amenities and more to the region’s marketing appeal.

“Craven, Lenoir and Moore counties each came to us and asked to become part of the Southeast,” says Jeff Etheridge, chairman of The Southeastern Partnership. The organization’s board and staff carefully considered the plusses and minuses of expanding the region from 15 to 18 counties before concluding that admission of the three made sense. “In each case, we’re talking about counties that mesh well with us economically, demographically and culturally,” Etheridge says.

Fast-growing Moore County boasts storied Sandhills communities like Pinehurst and Southern Pines, along with international name-recognition for golf and equestrian sports. Lenoir County is home to North Carolina’s Global TransPark, a 2,500-acre multi-modal industrial complex that is home to Spirit AeroSystems, a global aerospace manufacturing leader. Craven County is anchored by the City of New Bern, North Carolina’s colonial capital, and includes Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East.

Arriving counties expressed enthusiasm upon joining the region. “It was the focus of the Southeast Partnership that got us interested,” says Timothy Downs, director of the Craven County Economic Development Department. “They’re all about marketing and lead generation, and that’s what we need help with.” Craven County’s manufacturing base is similar to that of the Southeast Region, and its defense installations complement nearby Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress, says strategic and technical assistance from the Southeast will support Moore County’s efforts to bring greater diversification to its economic base. “We need to develop industrial product, and we‘re looking forward to the Southeast counseling us on that,” says Corso. Joining the Southeast Region will also support county efforts to sharpen business recruitment and marketing. “That’s their sweet spot,” he says.

Leaders in Lenoir County hope the Southeast’s extensive marketing relationships and visible presence at industry events will complement their existing outreach programs. “We’re eager to participate in The Southeast Partnership’s active calendar of trade shows and interact with their long list of consultant contacts,” says Mark Pope, executive director of the Lenoir County Economic Development Department. “We also hope to tap into the unique relationships they have with state economic development leaders,” Pope says.

Southeastern Partnership Chairman Etheridge believes the new counties bring both hard and soft assets to the region. “With their entry into the Southeast, we grow our critical mass of economic resources and amenities, and tap new sources of ideas, expertise and business leadership,” Etheridge says.