In a job she describes as sometimes feeling like a contest of “whack-a-mole,” Alyssa Byrd serves as president of Chatham Economic Development Corporation. She leads operations for the …
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In a job she describes as sometimes feeling like a contest of “whack-a-mole,” Alyssa Byrd serves as president of Chatham Economic Development Corporation. She leads operations for the organization and is responsible for implementing strategies to promote and strengthen the economic well-being of Chatham County.
After graduating from the UNC-Chapel Hill, she joined Chatham Economic Development Corporation in 2011 and has assumed roles of increasing responsibility since. She enjoys serving the community and is active with several organizations, including Chatham Chamber of Commerce, Pittsboro Main Street, Triangle CREW, Siler City Development Organization and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. She is also a member of the North Carolina Economic Development Association and the International Economic Development Council.
You’ve been at the EDC since 2011 and functioned as the president for an extended period before taking on the role officially in February. Can you talk about what your role involves and the responsibilities you have as president, and how your prior roles within the EDC prepared you for leading the organization?
I don’t think my prior roles within the organization ever prepared me for the volume of emails, phone calls and meetings I have now!
Previously, I led marketing and communication efforts. I was lucky enough to work with two incredible mentors and previous EDC presidents, Dianne Reid and Kyle Touchstone. I learned firsthand two styles of leadership, management, strategic-thinking — you name it. I like to think I’ve adopted the best qualities of both, but I’m not even close.
My role as president is to lead the implementation of a five-year strategic economic development plan that supports our mission (more on that in a second) and to manage a public-private partnership that serves the entire county.
My day-to-day responsibilities are dynamic, and generally involve working closely with local, regional and state leaders, businesses and partner organizations like the Chatham Chamber of Commerce and Central Carolina Community College.
An EDC’s traditional role focuses on recruitment. Before we address that, though, can you give an overview of the other things you and your team (which includes Sam Rauf, the EDC’s project manager) do?
Chatham EDC’s mission is to bring new investment and jobs to Chatham County by recruiting established companies, supporting existing employers and nurturing entrepreneurship.
Existing businesses are an important part of Chatham County’s economic health, which is why we have a team member dedicated to business retention and expansion efforts — Sam Rauf. We want Chatham County to be more than a good place to do business. We want to make it a place where businesses thrive. Sam’s role is to create trusted relationships with employers and connect them with the resources they need to be successful.
While we no longer have a staff member dedicated to entrepreneurship, the Small Business Center at Central Carolina Community College is an excellent technical assistance resource for small businesses.
Our strategic plan addresses specific issues — like supporting the development of industrial sites and being a partner in workforce development — while being mindful of economic realities and community desires. And while we’re driven by our strategic plan, we’re guided by policies adopted by leaders in Chatham County, Siler City, Pittsboro and Goldston.
Your office recently announced the news the EG-GILERO, a Morrisville-based medical device manufacturer, was investing $4 million to create a location in Pittsboro that would create 60 jobs. When it comes to recruiting business and industry, what’s involved in attracting a company and its investment to Chatham County? What’s the process like for you? What happens in the run-up to an announcement like that?
There are a lot of factors that drive a location decision by a company, but one of the biggest advantages we can create for ourselves is to build strong relationships with our partners. Economic development is a team effort, and having a good rapport with real estate brokers, elected officials, state partners and others makes working a project that much easier.
Each project is different. There are technical issues, like utility capacity, transportation access, the development timeline and the laborshed. Other times, subjective factors like quality of life and company culture can drive a project.
For EG-GILERO, Chatham County had the asset they needed: an industrial building that matched their requirements in a location near their Morrisville headquarters. Plus, as a medical device manufacturer, they knew the Research Triangle region was a match for workforce needs.
There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but because of our strong partnerships, everything fit together. Chatham County supported an incentive agreement, Central Carolina Community College has connected for workforce development needs, and recently, the North Carolina Department of Commerce announced a $300,000 building reuse grant for the company and Town of Pittsboro.
Chatham County’s growth projections are well-documented, thanks to projects like Chatham Park. What does that growth in population mean for the EDC and jobs in general in Chatham?
I left the EDC for about seven months in 2016 for a role at a commercial real estate firm in Raleigh. It was a great experience and I came away with a much better understanding of factors that drive non-industrial commercial real estate development. One of the top issues is the number of rooftops and density in an area.
Businesses of all sizes need people, whether customers or employees, so they’re paying close attention to the number of residential building permits and average daily traffic counts. Continued growth in our population, particularly within our towns, is going to open the door for new opportunities. More people, services and amenities will only make Chatham County more attractive for recruitment projects.
You work in a collaborative atmosphere, connecting with officials on the state and local level to move projects forward. Can you speak to the challenges, and opportunities, that this kind of work creates, and how you navigate through that process?
One thing that makes our region special is that, while we often compete with neighboring counties, we do it in the most collaborative way possible. We’re a region that supports each other, from opening our playbooks for each other to cheering for each other’s accomplishments.
We can’t be successful if we’re not operating on a regional level, and efforts like the Carolina Core marketing initiative, regional water and sewer partnerships and multi-county workforce development programs are creating stronger bonds. Ultimately, regionalism builds better resiliency for our communities.
So, while economic development presents challenges that sometimes feel like whack-a-mole, there is a great sense of camaraderie from peers across the region and state who are willing to help and give advice.
I think our greatest opportunities are to pay attention to trends, continue to implement best practices and be intentional with economic development. I’m grateful every day that I have the opportunity to be part of Chatham County’s growth during this exciting time.