Defense, Aerospace, Metalworking and Consumer Foods Among Business Sectors Targeted
With momentum gathering for the U.S. economy, Southeastern North Carolina has stepped up regional marketing with outreach strategies to targeted industries, construction of a new industrial property database and renewed cooperation among federal, state, regional and local economic development partners. As the Southeastern Partnership looks back on its first six months operating under a re-shaped public-private model and expanded geography, business leaders are satisfied the new organization is well-situated to capitalize on the region’s economic potential as job growth nationally continues to expand.
“Completing the transition to a new, improved regional development model couldn’t have occurred at a better time,” says Jeff Etheridge, chairman of The Southeastern Partnership. In July 2014, the organization became fully functional as a public-private partnership driven by business leaders and officials from member counties. The regional development organization had previously operated as a state commission funded and directed by the North Carolina General Assembly. Equipped now with new governance and a three-year marketing plan, The Southeastern Partnership is moving forward in earnest with promotional activities just as the nation’s economic vitality re-emerges from years of anemic growth. “We’ve been able to hit the ground running ahead of what is shaping up to be significant traction in the business cycle,” says Etheridge, a former regional executive with BB&T Corporation.
Since July, The Southeastern Partnership has traversed much of North America in reaching out to expansion-minded companies in the metalworking, consumer foods, aerospace and defense industries. Partnership officials attended the AUSA annual meeting in Washington, D.C., a gathering of some 28,000 military, government and industry professionals supporting U.S. Army operations around the world. It was the lead sponsor of a North Carolina Defense Business Association reception attended by 300 company representatives. Southeast officials joined local, state and private allies at FABTECH in Atlanta, a large annual gathering of metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing companies. Southeastern North Carolina was on display at the Canadian Aerospace Summit B2B & Trade Show and its 1,200 delegates meeting in Ottawa. “Our work at these three trade shows resulted in promising leads that we’re now developing in collaboration with our county partners and private allies,” says Steve Yost, president of The Southeastern Partnership.
Additionally, the Partnership hosted a reception in Raleigh for mid-Atlantic corporate real estate brokers. Regional representatives also traveled to New Jersey and New York for private meetings with companies in metalworking and consumer foods that are considering the Southeast for expansion opportunities. Meanwhile, a $35,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration is helping fund the creation of an Internet-enabled database of available industrial buildings and sites in the Southeast Region. Yost’s organization also has established ties with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), the statewide public-private marketing organization spun off earlier this year from the N.C. Department of Commerce. “As the state ramps up EDPNC, The Southeastern Partnership is aggressively exploring ideas on how our respective organizations can support each other for success,” Yost says.
Regional marketing activities are being guided by a marketing plan that details strategies, tools and tactics designed to generate qualified business leads, company visits and recommendations on specific industrial properties, as well as support for product development, partnership engagement and advocacy on behalf of the region’s economy. The three-year plan was written and approved by the Partnership’s 38-member board of directors, which pulls leadership from both the region’s public and private sectors.
“The new organization quickly developed a chemistry and a focus that’s been impressive,” said John Nelms, a Raleigh-based economic development manager for Duke Energy. Nelms, who serves on the Partnership’s board, says the array of business and local government leaders from 13 counties quickly found common ground on priorities. The region’s expanded geography – it now includes Anson, Duplin and Montgomery counties – brought new assets, amenities, ideas and leaders to the table. “Everyone on the board realizes close collaboration and cooperation between government and business on a regional basis are key to competing effectively for new jobs and investment,” Nelms said.
If recent data are any indication, the time may be ideal for asserting the Southeast Region’s brand to corporate decision-makers around the world. The U.S. economy has been gaining an average of 224,000 jobs a month over the past year, with 2014 on track to be the nation’s best year for job creation since 1999. Stronger employment feeds consumer spending, in turn driving companies to invest in new plant and equipment in order to keep up with growing demand. A November survey of manufacturing industry CFOs by the Chicago-based consulting firm Grant Thornton found that 41 percent are considering a merger or acquisition in the coming year, suggesting greater confidence in operating performance as U.S. economic growth outpaces other parts of the world.
“The reason why capital investment and hiring have lagged in the last few years is because the outlook among businesses has not been optimistic,” says William “Woody” Hall, senior economist at the Swain Center for Business and Economic Services at UNC Wilmington. “That measure of confidence among CFOs had been very low since 2009,” Hall says. Hiring is usually a precursor to businesses pulling the trigger on plans to invest in hard assets, Hall says. “When you start to see employees being added, it’s not too long before new plant and equipment get added.”
Headquartered in Elizabethtown, N.C., The Southeastern Partnership pursues a mission to “provide strong economic development leadership in southeastern North Carolina through innovative marketing and collaborative regional initiatives that will support the creation of new jobs, generate capital investment, and secure new business locations.” For additional information, visit www.ncse.org