Summit focuses on local economy

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Rocky Mount City Manager Charles Penny speaks to the audience Thursday at the Rocky Mount Economic Summit at Rose Hill in Nashville.


By Corey Davis
Staff Writer

Friday, April 29, 2016

NASHVILLE — Government officials and business leaders from the Twin Counties filled Nathan Hall at Rose Hill on Thursday morning to hear about potential economic opportunities in the struggling local economy and an update on the revitalization of downtown Rocky Mount.

The Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2016 economic summit, which focused on the importance of infrastructure investments, a downtown economic center and a vision for the future. Norris Tolson, president and chief executive officer of Carolinas Gateway Partnership and Rocky Mount City Manager Charles Penny were this year’s guest speakers.

Tolson gave a status report about the recruitment of potential industries to the Twin Counties. He said the Partnership is actively involved in 36 projects at various stages of development.

However, Tolson said, the local public-private partnership is in the final running of possibly landing two major industrial plants at the 1,449-acre Kingsboro Megasite in Edgecombe County. The proposed projects would bring a little more than $1 billion of investment and between 1,200 to 1,500 jobs, Tolson said.

The Partnership is expected to have a final decision within the next six to nine months, Tolson added.

As North Carolina pushes to bring more food processing businesses to the state, Tolson said the Partnership is aggressively going after food processing industries, actively pitching to six food processing companies to relocate in the Twin Counties.

He said talks with one company to move to the Whitakers Business and Industry Center could bring in 125 jobs and $58 million in investment.

“These six projects collectively could be a total of 400 to 500 jobs and between $200 to $300 million combined investment,” Tolson said. ”I will take these types of projects all day long because if you lose one, then those aren’t going to wipe out the county. They also likely not to move somewhere else and we’re working really hard to land food processing because they’re really in our sweet spot.”

Tolson acknowledged North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which requires transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certification, has created some issues in recruitment.

“We are feeling some pinch from it,” Tolson said. “We’ve had some inquiries that have gone silent on us and we anticipate that is the issue. The site consultants from out of the state have gone out of their way to say to us that this isn’t a very good thing. But the position we have taken is the law is the law and we’re going to deal with it as it is written.”

Penny provided details about the proposed downtown community facility, which would seat around 5,000 people. The facility will include eight basketball courts that can be converted to 16 volleyball courts, telescopic seating, rope course, a climbing wall, a family and entertainment center and portable concession stands.

Penny said the guaranteed maximum cost of the potential facility is $32 million. The city is looking to be approved for $15 million in new market tax credits before moving forward to the next stage that will include getting local government consent. 

“We’re now in six applications for new tax credits and that announcement should come in the summer,” Penny said.

Among the goals of the downtown community facility, Penny said, would be to create a new economy for the center city and region and grow the city’s tax base.

While the facility will be used for many different events, Penny added, the focus will be on youth and amateur sports, which is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry.

He added that amateur sports is a $200 million travel industry. The facility will build on the success of the Rocky Mount Sports Complex, which attracted 92,000 tournament visitors in 2015. The complex also had an economic impact of $10 million last year. 

Penny said in year five of the downtown community facility, it is projected to lead to the creation of 46,000 additional hotel rooms, attract 300,000 visitors annually and host 48 projected events. 

In the 10th year of the facility, it’s projected to bring in a net profit of $450,000, Penny added.  The total economic impact will be $264 million over a 10-year period, Penny said.

“We feel the facility is like a small industry coming to our community,” he said. “Our work and the vision with our city council is to help aid in recruitment of economic development and help with employment retention by creating amenities for the community that can improve the quality of life and also attract citizens to our community — in particular younger citizens.”