When you think about the economy in Robeson County, chances are agriculture is the first thing that comes to mind. And when you head down to New Hanover County, you might expect tourism or maybe the shipping industry at the port to be big economic drivers.
You'd be right, but maybe missing bigger stories about industries are also major players, or on their way to becoming one.
In New Hanover, it's the film business, where, as an Observer Sunday story pointed out, production of films and TV shows provides jobs for thousands of residents.
Wilmington is the epicenter of the film business in North Carolina, and this is shaping up as a boom year. All 10 sound stages at the EUE/Screen Gems Studios are in use for "Iron Man 3." But there is more filming on locations in the region and across the state - in 30 counties in all, drawing $300 million in local spending and providing more than 15,000 jobs.
In Robeson County, the buzz is quieter but growing. It's no joke to say there's electricity in the air. The solar energy industry is taking hold on Robeson's perfect combination of sunshine and thousands of acres of flat, inexpensive land. It's just what the solar-energy industry needs.
One company - Strata Solar - has built two 6.4-megawatt solar farms in Rowland and Maxton and has two more under construction in St. Pauls and Shannon. More are coming. "That's a very important part of the state for us," a company official says, "and will continue to be," as the company builds a cluster of solar farms.
Another company built a smaller farm near Laurinburg and a third is working on solar projects in Maxton and Fairmont. The industry provides about 100 jobs in Robeson County, with 30 or 40 more expected soon.
Solar growth is driven by two things: government subsidies for clean energy sources and a sharp decline in the cost of solar panels. The subsidies are paying off. As the industry matures, it will become competitive with other power sources with no more subsidy than the others get.
The film industry also benefits from state tax-incentive programs. They may be the most successful incentives ever, drawing millions of film dollars to the state every year.
And therein lies a lesson for all communities looking to expand and diversify their industrial bases: Look at what you've got, look at what's in demand, look at what's available to help get it started. Then build it. They will come.