North Carolina's Southeast Launches Transition To Public-Private Partnership Model


Regional Economic Development Marketing and Leadership
to Continue for Southeast Region
Elizabethtown, N.C. – November 5, 2013. Business leaders from across southeastern North Carolina have taken the lead in sustaining the mission and programming of North Carolina’s Southeast, an economic development organization created by the state nearly 20 years ago. In late September the board of directors of the Southeastern North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission approved a plan to transition itself to a private non-profit corporation. The Southeastern Partnership, which will assume all operations of the Commission effective July 1, 2014, unites private-sector leaders from across the economic region.
“A healthy regional economy benefits businesses in the region,” said Jeff Etheridge, former Southeast Regional president at BB&T Bank in Whiteville. “By focusing leadership resources on a proven regional economic development operation, private-sector players can shape and direct strategies and programs that can impact the regional economy.” Thus far, 25 private entities have committed their support to the Partnership, committing several hundred thousand dollars in funds annually over the next three years.
In August, the board of the Southeastern Partnership agreed to take over leadership of   North Carolina’s Southeast on July 1, 2014, as the Commission will sunset under North Carolina law on June 30th. Among other actions, board members elected Mr. Etheridge as their Chairman. David Burns of Z.V. Pate Corporation, a Laurel Hill-based management services company with century-old roots in the region, will serve as Vice-Chairman. The board also elected Sandra Spiers, Wilmington city executive at SunTrust Bank, as the organization’s Treasurer. Officers will serve two-year terms.
“There’s been a lot of excitement and energy in that boardroom as these discussions have taken place,” said Russ Rogerson, Executive Vice President of the Economic Alliance of Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Rogerson will join Burns, Etheridge and Spiers as a member of the executive committee of the Southeastern Partnership. Local economic development organizations such as his benefit from the promotional outreach programs of North Carolina’s  Southeast, Rogerson says. “In today’s competitive global economy, we rely on marketing and lead-generation conducted locally, regionally and statewide,” Rogerson explained.
Private support for regional economic development in the Southeast is not new; businesses have contributed financially to the Southeastern Partnership since the 1990s, augmenting public dollars appropriated to the Commission by the North Carolina General Assembly. Private support will constitute the majority of the Partnership’s funding when the state phases out its appropriation next summer as part of significant structural and strategic reforms to North Carolina’s economic development framework. Beginning next summer, North Carolina’s Southeast will be a partnership between businesses and county governments in the region, an organizational model that is largely the rule for regional economic development programs around the U.S. Officials at North Carolina’s Southeast examined several best practices for multi-county economic partnerships, including those in use by regions in Indiana, Virginia and South Carolina. 
In re-drafting the Southeast Region’s economic development structure, Commission staff and leaders sought input from state and local partners and private allies, all of which are key in an ongoing collaboration that is the hallmark of effective regional advancement and advocacy. “This move by Southeast leaders mirrors efforts at the state level to encourage private-sector participation in our job-creation and business development strategies,” said Commerce Secretary Sharon A. Decker, who was briefed on the Southeast’s new model in late summer.  “Aggressive global marketing will ensure the region’s economic assets are seen by corporate decision-makers around the world.”
Gary Lanier, Economic Development Director for Columbus County, expects North Carolina’s Southeast to maintain its close working relationship with the Department of Commerce and cultivate collaborative ties with the state’s newly privatized business recruitment organization, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. “We are all on the same page,” said Lanier. Counties such as his grew accustomed to the technical, research and marketing support they received from North Carolina’s Southeast through the years and were eager to see a new operational model emerge that would preserve regional assistance. “Changes are afoot and the Southeast is making the right moves to be able to continue to provide a critical service to our region,” Lanier said.
The Southeast’s transition to a public-private organization means member counties in the region can expect the same valuable marketing support and technical services as before. “In terms of programs and strategies, counties should notice very little change,” said Beth Dawson, a member of North Carolina’s Southeast Commission board who also serves as a New Hanover County Commissioner. “North Carolina’s Southeast was created 20 years ago for the purpose of adding value for the counties. The organization remains committed to doing that even as other factors impact resources and governance.”
North Carolina’s Southeast Commission was created by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1994 to coordinate marketing and job creation across a region that encompassed Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Hoke, New Hanover, Pender, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson and Scotland counties. The Southeastern Partnership was founded later that year as a 501(c)(6) corporation under North Carolina law. In 2013, Anson and Montgomery counties joined the Southeast Region. Through the years, the work of North Carolina’s Southeast has helped facilitate the arrival of 114 companies in the region, the creation of 9,182 new jobs and the attraction of $995,175,000 in economic investment. For additional information, visit