The Transylvania Times -

Hawkins Discusses State's Response To Economic Development - Brevard NC


September 27, 2018

How to promote economic growth in North Carolina’s rural areas, such as Transylvania County, is one of the focuses of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC).

During Monday’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting, Commissioner Mike Hawkins, an EDPNC board member, talked about the organization and particularly about the entity’s latest focus on rural North Carolina.

The EDPNC was formed in 2014 by Gov. Pat McCrory and is the lead economic development agency in the state, working with the N.C. Department of Commerce to grow the state’s economy. It’s a private entity, Hawkins said, which is seen as having advantages, from an economic development standpoint, such as flexibility, speed and leadership. The 15-member board includes top business officials, lawyers and others. The EDPNC focuses on five areas:

•Business recruitment: Hawkins said the bid, for example, to bring Amazon to the state is one of EDPNC’s roles. In any given year, he said, EDPNC assists with bringing in 200 business, creating 15,000 jobs.

•Existing business development: The bulk of new jobs, Hawkins said, come from existing businesses.

In North Carolina, roughly 80 percent of new jobs come from existing businesses.

•Export assistance: The EDPNC has a whole department that helps North Carolina businesses that export.

•International markets: To attract international businesses, the EDPNC has offices in eight different countries.

•Travel and tourism: Hawkins described it as the “biggest area,” as far spending on marketing the state. Hawkins is also chair of the EDPNC Travel and Tourism board.

Going Rural

Hawkins said new business recruitment, typically, occurs in urban areas, and the EDPNC board has been discussing how to promote growth in rural areas. Hawkins was tasked with chairing a subcommittee to look at rural issues and how to make it easier for rural areas to attract businesses and investment. The big difference between rural and urban North Carolina, Hawkins said, is the “basic building blocks of community.” The “building blocks” are identified as workforce support and development, education, infrastructure, health and leadership. Hawkins also referenced a survey by a site selection magazine that asks CEOs and site consultants each year the most important factors in getting a business to locate. In 2017, the top five were highway accessibility; labor costs; availability of skilled labor; quality of life; and tax exemptions and incentives. Urban areas have the advantage because they already have some of the “building blocks” in place and are working on other things, while rural areas are still trying to get some of the basics in place. Hawkins’ EDPNC Rural Work Group decided to invite economic developers from across the state to a two-day conference in July in Pinehurst to address the “building blocks” and how they can be applied to their counties. The by-invitation only event had 219 participants from 70 counties (61 rural and nine urban).

Transylvania County participants included Josh Hallingse, the Transylvania Economic Alliance’s executive director; Alliance board members Jeremy Owen, Mark Tooley and Amber Webb; and Laura Leatherwood, Blue Ridge Community College’s president. The conference, Hawkins said, included a speaker for each of the “building blocks.” Hawkins summarized each presentation:

•Workforce support and development: Rural growth is challenging. Almost all of North Carolina’s 80 rural counties have had negative job growth from 2007-2017. Jobs exist, but people’s skills and interest don’t always align with jobs. While rural and urban areas face similar problems, rural areas have fewer resources to use, so collaboration is essential.

•Education: A high school diploma is not enough, and early success is crucial. Third-grade reading proficiency is the greatest indicator of future success. Only 24 percent of students in economically disadvantaged schools were proficient in 2017, and this is despite a relatively successful pre-K system —though only 46 percent of 4-year-olds access pre-K. Poverty is a key factor and has to be fixed.

Students in economically disadvantaged schools perform poorer in every measurable category.

For all North Carolina students, a high school diploma does not necessarily indicate proficiency in key measurable metrics, such as ACT scores, end-of-course, college and career readiness benchmarks. Every dollar spent on birth to 5-year-old programs for economically disadvantaged children gives a 13 percent return on investment. Graduation rates across the state are increasing, but when students go to community colleges or university they are often in remedial classes.

•Infrastructure: Need to be more inclusive in the definition of “infrastructure,” which is constantly changing and includes both physical and human infrastructure. Recent Golden LEAF funding totaled $129.7 million over 175 projects. Of those projects, 56 percent were water/sewer and 20 percent were broadband. Rural areas often think in the “if we build it, they will come” mindset, but that is rarely successful. Infra-structure development must be part of a coherent, logical, long-range plan of economic growth, which includes numerous different categories of planning. Water and sewer utilities are key.

•Health: The N.C. Rural Health Action Plan (2014) lists numerous priorities, including screening and prevention emphasis, ACA promotion and rural health professional recruitment. Medicaid expansion would result in an estimated 43,000 new jobs, There has been billions of dollars in increased economic activity in the first five years. It includes crucial support to the state’s threatened rural hospital network. Broadband infra-structure is a key component toward addressing rural health care issues. Programs in telemedicine and telepsychiatry are especially important. Hawkins said the public’s health is an economic development factor. If your county is a “sick community,” then that impacts productivity, new job growth and businesses that want to come here. Health screenings and wellness programs are also important.

•Leadership: Leadership is both the most essential and least examined component of rural economic development.

Plans cannot be formulated, much less implemented, without a strong cadre of local leaders in government, business, faith, nonprofit and others. A good leadership culture is an intentional thing, involving structured ways to identify and nurture new talent. It must also involve a culture of turnover — of existing leaders willingly to give way to new groups of leadership candidates. A good leadership culture takes advantage of enrichment opportunities on the state, regional and local level.

Hawkins said feedback from those who attended the conference was over-whelmingly positive and another would likely happen.

The challenge to those who attended was to go back to their communities and make something happen.

Since the conference, the Transylvania group has continued to meet. The group is exploring ways Transylvania County can expand its capacity in the “building blocks” areas and is initially focusing on two areas: leadership and infrastructure. More from Monday’s meeting will appear in the next edition.


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