The N.C. Tomorrow Initiative, a push toward a stronger economic future in not only Sampson, but the rest of the region and state, has brought about an in-depth report on counties, their data and potential projects that could aid in economic development should federal dollars be available.
Joel Strickland, grant administrator for the Mid Carolina Council of Government, spoke to the Sampson County Board of Commissioners recently about a regional economic plan developed as a product of the N.C. Tomorrow Initiative. It encompasses Sampson, and is the result of a grant for which Sampson served as the lead applicant.
“It was designed to be a statewide comprehensive economic development strategy that would help spur job creation,” said Strickland. “This plan was done locally, but the ultimate goal of it is to take this plan and other plans all across the state, roll them together into one big plan and hopefully leverage federal economic development funds.”
The board accepted and approved the plan, as well as OKing a revised contract with MCCOG and adopted the existing Anti-Displacement and Relocation Assistance Plan specific to the grant initiative. The documents are required by the state for the grant’s administration.
In 2011, Sampson County officials were asked by the MCCOG to be lead applicant for the N.C. Tomorrow Initiative, a multi-county initiative to develop a regional, and ultimately statewide, economic development plan. The $50,000 grant has been administrated by the MCCOG, which facilitated the collection of data from area county stakeholders then crafted it into a regional plan by the Southeastern Economic Development Commission.
“I had some concerns initially with whether or not Sampson County would actually get its fair share of funds generated,” said Commissioner Albert Kirby. “I was a little bit concerned that the more metropolitan areas would benefit more than we would. I’m not really certain that I’ve gotten a satisfactory answer, to be honest with you. I’m all for economic growth and it sounds good, but if Cumberland County or some of the bigger counties get more money than Sampson than obviously anything we put in would create a bit of an issue for me.”
Strickland said he understood the concern, but could not give a definitive answer without knowing what kind of dollars would be coming in.
“I can tell you from our COG standpoint that whatever money that would funnel down we would try to disperse it as fairly as possible,” he said. “It’s really hard to put a definite dollar amount on anything because we don’t have any definitive money that has come down yet. I can guarantee you we will do our best to make sure Sampson County gets what they deserve out of this, especially since you have served as the applicant for the process.”
The Southeastern Economic Development Commission’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy 2012-2017 provides an in-depth look at the complete profile of Sampson and 11 other counties in the region. The 100-page report includes data concerning population, housing, infrastructure characteristics, as well as information on the agricultural and environmental economy, medical facilities and tourism.
“It covers a wide gamut of in-depth data and gives a good regional profile,” said Strickland. “Essentially, the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy was a plan that would attract new investment, businesses and jobs into the region, which includes Sampson County.”
There were many partners involved in the process, including the state of North Carolina, Southeastern Economic Development Commission, The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, The N.C. Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation.
The report offers analysis of economic development challenges, opportunities and competitive advantages in the region. Economic clusters were identified where there were opportunities for success, among them agriculture, agribusiness, advanced manufacturing and military defense.
The report also gives a plan of action, which encompasses five basic goals, objectives and strategies. Those goals are to build on the region’s competitive advantages; establish and maintain a robust regional infrastructure; create revitalized and vibrant communities; develop healthy and innovative people; and encourage entrepreneurs and small business growth.
Vital projects are listed within the region so if, and when, money becomes available they can be addressed. Included among them are potential industrial projects off Interstate 40 Exits 348, 355 and 364 in Sampson County, as well as the N.C. 24 industrial corridor through the county, which will be widened as part of construction set for a mid-2013 start.
“There is a lot of work being done at the state level to try to leverage some economic development funds for the state, which in turn would funnel down to the region,” Strickland said. “The liaison for the COGs said (at a recent presentation) there was a possibility of them being very close to acquiring $9 to $10 million from the feds to do some economic development work.”
To that end, the report tries to identify and lay the groundwork for potential projects that can be addressed across the state should funding present itself for vital projects.
“The plan is getting a lot of praise from the feds,” said Strickland. “HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and the federal government have been very supportive of the effort the state has put on, and are looking very closely at it as a model for other states to use. At this point, the development of the plan is complete.”
Strickland said the planning process would be complete following some housekeeping items.
The Division of Community Assistance requested certain corrective actions with regard to the grant’s associated documents. First, the contract between the county and MCCOG must be amended to include a clause that essentially notes performed work is subject to the requirements of Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968.
Additionally, the board adopted an Anti-Displacement and Relocation Assistance Plan, documents typically utilized for Community Development Block Grant housing projects. Local officials said those documents do not seem applicable to the non-housing related effort, However they are required by the state because the grant funding has been provided as a CDBG.
Strickland said the three Councils of Government — Mid Carolina, Cape Fear and Lumber River — worked together to compile the final plan that will be submitted to the state. If there is federal funding up for grabs, having the report would only boost chances to secure it. he said.
“The end result is the 101-page plan,” said Strickland. “I think it’s something the state will build upon and will be a good, productive document for the state to hopefully leverage some funds.”