Leaders discuss rural development


Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Gov. Roy Cooper’s initiative to improve the way state government works with and helps rural communities came to Edgecombe County on Tuesday. 

As one of the six pilots for the “Hometown Strong” initiative, Edgecombe County officials and community partners welcomed state officials to the county’s auditorium for them to hear about things happening to improve the quality of life in the county.

From the community roundtable discussion, Hometown Strong will work with local leaders to identify templates of success that will improve the education, health and income of local residents.

Hometown Strong Director Pryor Gibson, who guided the discussion, said Edgecombe County was chosen to be one of the rural counties to be part of the initiative because the county is doing creative things economically and in community development. 

“We put every county on the list,” Gibson said. “We looked at some of the key areas such as education, health care, public safety, broadband, infrastructure transportation and other categories to make rural areas better. Edgecombe kind of bubbled up as the one we could use as a sample for some other relative rural areas that are still argricultural driven but heading in another way.”

Mary Penny Kelley, special advisor of Hometown Strong, said she thinks Edgecombe County will be a perfect place to look at how the county can attract youth and give them a place to want to stay or have things to attract them to want to come back after college and raise their families.

“I think also having the transportation hubs like CSX and the Kingsboro Megasite is important to look at,” Kelley said. “The Carolinas Gateway Partnership, even though they do two counties in Nash and Edgecombe, having that heavy economic development recruitment is unique because that’s something that we don’t see in a lot of other rural counties. I think having that major transportation infrastructure is key in a rural area.”

Over the past years, Edgecombe County has been mired with the highest unemployment among the 100 counties in North Carolina.

In December, Cooper came to Edgecombe County to make two big economic development announcements. During the first visit, Cooper announced New York-based Corning Inc., a world leading innovator in material sciences, said it’s investing $86 million to build a global distribution center in Edgecombe County and bring 150 jobs. 

The following week, Cooper announced Chinese tire company Triangle Tire would invest $580 million to build its first manufacturing facility, which will consist of a passenger tire facility and a commerical facility, and hire 800 employees. The Edgecombe County operation is expected to pay an average wage of $56,450, which is almost double the county’s average wage of $32,642.

The high-paying jobs are surely going to draw people from surrounding counties looking to fill the jobs. Edgecombe County Manager Eric Evans said his goal is to have all or mostly all those jobs filled with Edgecombe County residents.

“With what’s happening here and what potential industry is coming our way, if we don’t get our citizens into those jobs, that isn’t going to move the needle on our unemployment figure, and that will be a terrible shame for us to get down the road five to 10 years to have all this business bustling and for our unemployment rate to continue to be consistently in the top five in the state.”

Edgecombe County Commissioner Billy Wooten said with the county in a position to create jobs, it needs to find a way to get people to want to live in Edgecombe County. He added 40 percent of the workforce in Edgecombe County comes from surrounding counties.

“We need to recruit or encourage the workforce that’s going to fill these jobs to live in Edgecombe County or our rural communties,” Wooten said. “We’ve got to show them what we’ve got going on.”