North Carolina’s Southeast Focuses on Economic Development in Region

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There is strength in numbers.  There is influence in teamwork. There is power in unity. There is benefit in collaboration. There is employment in industry. There is incentive in free markets. 

There is business growth to be had within the local region. A newly privatized regional economic development model, North Carolina’s Southeast (NCSE),is showing collaboration between private business and county funding can positively impact Columbus County and beyond. 

Beginning July 1, NCSE, as noted in a recent press release, this new partnership “assumed all regional marketing and economic development activities formerly conducted by North Carolina’s Southeast Commission” (an organization that previously existed and received state funding).

Steve Yost is the president in Elizabethtown, he spoke of the recent transition.  “About two to three years ago, the state legislature started making changes to all of the state-funded economic development offices.  Finally, that change resulted in the complete defunding of the commissions as of June 30.

“Even the Department of Commerce is being restructured into a privatized nonprofit corporation. The state legislature made the decision to defund us in 2013 … but we got (an additional) year’s worth of funding.”

Yost continued. We knew we had to shift “into a public-private partnership … public funding comes from the county. We have completed that transition. It took two years to get it done. We have raised private funding to get it done.”

Jeff Etheridge, who has lived in Columbus County for decades, is chairman of the board for the new NCSE. He has been and continues to be involved in organizations that strive to bring economic development into the southeast.

Formerly the regional president of BB&T, Etheridge is chairman of the Columbus County Committee of 100 and is a board member of Rural Infrastructure Authority, which is part of the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“I believe in Columbus County,” Etheridge said. “I chose to move here and to stay here. As chairman of the NCSE board, I will consider what will benefit the entire region, but I will also always be keeping my eyes open for opportunities that can strengthen our economy here at home.”

BB&T is currently the lead corporate donor within NCSE. Etheridge played an important role in that being the case. He said of the decision BB&T made while he was still at the regional helm. “The purpose of BB&T’s investment is that this is our hometown down here (in Whiteville), and we want the effort made to grow Southeastern North Carolina economically.”

Etheridge continued. “As NCSE began the transition process, we solicited many companies and individuals and have assembled a strong group of industry leaders who have invested their time, money and effort to form the core group of private investors/directors that will lead this organization. We would be pleased to have others join us in this effort.”

Yost said NCSE knew its role as well, and was determined to continuously add value to the region. “We really try to utilize our regional assets. We know who we are. We know how to market to industries.

A couple of these (resources include) the port in Wilmington. Another one is our strong agriculture base, including crops and livestock. “The third one would be our transportation network, which has improved dramatically over the last 20 years. An additional valuable asset is our community colleges because they provide customized industry trainings.

The community colleges in our region do a really good job in employee training,” Yost continued. “Also, our region has Fort Bragg and military defense. We package all that into our marketing strategies. We align these with the industry sectors that we target.” Yost noted that some of the industries in and near Columbus County include metal working manufacturers, agribusiness and food processing companies, including Wayne E. Bailey and Nice Blends.

He mentioned past marketing strategies that had brought business into the local community. “There are a couple of good examples of what we have recommended for Columbus in the past. One is Idaho Timber, just south of Chadbourn. Another one is MaxPro” (within the Southeast Regional Park, located near Southeastern Community College). Etheridge stated, “These enterprise organizations, such as NCSE, are very important, giving us some attention on the national and international level.” Yost echoed this sentiment and added: “We’re very value-added. We’re unique. Nobody else does this in Southeast North Carolina. If we went away, the counties would lose a lot of marketing that they’ve had with our previous organization. “We market this region nationally and internationally, encouraging industries to consider this region geographically.”

The economic development partnership president continued. “Resources are probably the most scarce for economical development that we’ve ever had. The value to local businesses to be a part of NCSE is that we will be working together regionally … if we work together, we will have better success than if we work only through counties.” Yost emphasized, “We’re going to stay very focused on our primary mission on marketing the counties. We always believed that our primary mission was to focus on the counties. We are here to assist these counties and market these counties to grow their economies.” Etheridge concluded, “Columbus County has a lot more to offer businesses and industries than many people realize. I believe NCSE will be one of the integral ways in which we let the country and the world discover this.”

NCSE Services for companies, consultants and brokers provide customized assistance to companies and consultants considering the southeast region; facilitates coordination of resources, information and contact with relevant agencies and officials; recommend relevant areas and products; provide customized demographic information; coordinate regional sites visits to the counties; manage all communications and interaction on a confidential basis and assist with information concerning incentives and financial assistance NCSE provides leadership on regional initiatives; regional workforce analysis; international industry analysis; industrial site certification; aerospace industry sector analysis; leadership and funding support for I-73 Association; bio-renewable GIS inventory; Industrial site development and at-port industry marketing initiative .

SOURCE:  Wally Todd
The News Reporter, Staff Writer