‘Carolina Core’ finding space in crowded economic development landscape

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/1/19

While the “Carolina Core” is made up of a broad swath of land, people and facilities across central North Carolina, its proprietors see it as a strategy, a strategy designed to bring employers to …

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‘Carolina Core’ finding space in crowded economic development landscape

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While the “Carolina Core” is made up of a broad swath of land, people and facilities across central North Carolina, its proprietors see it as a strategy, a strategy designed to bring employers to the middle of the state.

“It’s strategic in its own right,” says Stan Kelly, president and CEO of Piedmont Triad Partnership and lead voice for the Carolina Core. “On the other hand, it’s a logical, how do you put Central North Carolina together in a way that increases our likelihood of winning and thriving in the future.”

Birthed out of the Greensboro-based Piedmont Triad Partnership, economic development organization, the Carolina Core is about five months old as a branding strategy of acres of land stretching from Surry County near the Virginia state line all the way down to Fayetteville, along the U.S. Highway 421 corridor. It incorporates four major megasites — including the Chatham Advanced Manufacturing Megasite in Siler City and the Moncure Megasite — several four-year and community colleges and multiple airports and military bases. Its tag line — “Your Next Big Move” — is symbolic of Kelly’s goals for the area: recruiting a “transformational project.”

Penny Whiteheart, executive vice president for the PTP, said the Toyota/Mazda project considering Chatham County — but ultimately went to Huntsville, Alabama, at the beginning of 2018 — led to good feedback about the area’s workforce, which she said is many communities’ “weak point.” Kelly said Toyota saw it as “a qualifying element that kept us in the game as long as we were...not only the size but the skill set.”

That labor pool, plus the megasites and developing infrastructure, make the Core an attractive option for corporations, he said. But ultimately, Kelly and Whiteheart stress, it’s the collective region as a product that they’re pushing.

To do that, Kelly and Carolina Core-based economic development officials have spent the last few months getting buy-in from state and local leaders. So far, they say, it’s been a successful push.

Alyssa Byrd, president of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, represented the Core at the Institute for Emerging Issues ReCONNECT forum on Feb. 11 in Raleigh. She told the News + Record that the Core is about making the message across the region consistent.

“Regional marketing is not a new concept, but this is definitely changing how we work together and compete against each other, but as partners,” Byrd said. “We’re obviously still focused on Chatham County and wins for Chatham County, but we know when our neighbors have success, we’ll have success here.”

The Carolina Core group is also preparing to launch a “pretty massive marketing campaign,” Kelly said, as well as creating a list of businesses to approach about expansions or potential relocations from other areas.

“All we want is more chances at bat,” he said. “And then we’ll have to sell as best as we can. We think it’s a pretty compelling story.”

What does this mean to the teacher in Pittsboro or farmer on the outskirts of Siler City that’s not looking for a job, that’s not thinking about a career change? Kelly and Whiteheart say most of their work will have a spillover effect on that everyday Chatham County citizen.

“A community that is not built on industrial and commercial development is going to create a real imbalance in the services versus the revenue for a local government,” Whiteheart said. “A community needs to balance its portfolio and types of tax base. Growing a commercial and industrial tax base is usually a high priority of medium-sized rural-ish communities.”

In layman terms, that growth equals a bigger tax base, which means more government services and/or a possible lower tax rate, depending on the decisions of that local government. But while individual communities may benefit from the Core’s work, Whiteheart said that it will grow the region as a whole.

“What we’re trying to do is provide an umbrella for similar economic development strategies along the 421 corridor,” she said, “where we’re all looking for a similar profile of employer and economic development profile, and just be stronger together.”

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