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Partnership: Economic development can rebound in 2021

Posted on January 11, 2021

Local news

kripley@springhopeenterprise.com

Chung

Chung

NASHVILLE — Economic development projects shriveled up in March but showed a strong rebound by fall and prospects are good for 2021, the head of the state’s public-private economic development agency said. 

Chris Chung, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina’s CEO, presented a virtual update and an outlook on upcoming activity for 2021 during the Nash County Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 4 regular meeting. 

The six-year-old EDPNC, a nonprofit established by the legislature and under contract with the state to perform economic development functions previously under the Department of Commerce, conducts industrial business recruitment, helps existing firms expand, provides small business startup and international trade assistance and promotes tourism, Chung told commissioners.

Nash County joined the partnership when it revived its own economic development office, breaking away from the Carolinas Gateway Partnership. The agency has 65 employees in North Carolina and more than 70 private investors, and Larry McAdams of Rocky Mount serves on the 17-member board of directors whose appointments are split between the governor and General Assembly.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot of changes to how economic development is being done the past 10 months,” Chung said. “All predictions go out the window with something we’ve seen like the pandemic.”

Chung said the pipeline for economic development projects had been “robust” coming into 2020 but dropped dramatically in March, April and May from 2019.

“We entered 2020 with a strong pipeline of projects. The pandemic turned them quickly on its head. A lot of plans got put on hold when we began to realize the seriousness of the virus,” he said, “and the deals we did have are moving much more slowly.”

But since June and every month since, he said, “we have seen significantly more new projects coming through the door than we did in 2019. Because the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming more apparent, we’ve seen a major uptick in new projects. We expect more site visits in 2021.”

He stressed that having a qualified workforce and good available sites was still important to being considered by prospective industries, but he said the pandemic shifted companies’ interest in locating in urban areas to more suburban areas and smaller towns where workers could use some aspect of home employment.

“Urban density has been exposed by the pandemic as a riskier thing than people ever thought,” Chung said. “After the pandemic, some of those urban neighborhoods are not going to seem so appealing. Office trends will change quite a bit heading into 2021.”

Another trend Chung said the state is seeing is a lot of food and beverage companies seeking manufacturing plants to produce prepackaged foods. Noting that the hospitality industry suffered the largest sustained job loss, he suggested the county consider focusing on retraining hospitality workers to work in prepackaged food plants. He also said new jobs would also require some background in technology. 

He said Nash County’s use of shell buildings was an advantage because counties with no available buildings would “not get very far in consideration because chances are we will have other sites available in North Carolina.” He said shell buildings were more flexible and “a cut above” a vacant building formerly used by another company.

Chung also noted that since the pandemic cut down on site visits, companies were conducting more research online and interacting virtually. He praised the county’s website for having good information for prospective industries.

He expressed the hope that “at least a more normal year is ahead for us.”

“We are new, in our baby stage,” said county board Chairman Robbie Davis. “If you’ll get us a good industry here, a little extra help, we’ll stand on our own from then on.”

In other business, commissioners amended the county’s unified development ordinance to allow government-owned animal shelters as a separate permitted land use as the county works on plans for a new animal shelter to replace the existing facility in Nashville.

Previously, animal shelters were allowed under “animal specialty services” without restrictions in A-1 (agricultural) and GI (general industrial) zones as well as in the RC (rural commercial) an GC (general commercial) zones subject to the restriction that no outdoor animal pens are runs are permitted.

The amended ordinance, approved unanimously, will allow a government-owned animal shelter in the OI (office and institutional) zoning district, as well as the A-1 and GI districts, with outdoor animal pens and runs provided that the pens and runs are located at least 200 feet away from adjacent residentially zoned or used property in order to mitigate potential noise.

In other zoning action, the board rezoned a 23.7-acre tract on Eastern Avenue near Nash Community College from residential to office and institutional. The county recently optioned the property for future development of county facilities and/or expansion of the adjacent community college campus.

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