Duke program a positive step for the area

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It is certainly positive news that Duke Energy has chosen a 320-acre section of the Middlesex Corporate Centre for its 2013 Site Readiness Program.

The program aims to help communities served by the utility company to attract new companies and jobs. Under the program, Duke has hired the consulting firm McCallum Sweeney to conduct a site study and will work with land-use planners to develop conceptual plans for the site. A final report will present recommendations to Nash County leaders.

Once the site is ready, Duke’s Business Development Team will market the site to companies across the country that are looking to expand or relocate their operations.

Officials with the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, a public-private industrial recruitment agency for the Twin Counties, said participation in the Site Readiness Program will expose the Middlesex site to a wide range of potential new businesses. With Duke’s resources, contacts and national reputation, that likely will pay economic dividends down the road for Nash County.

And it can provide a new industrial electrical customer for Duke.

This is another example of just the type of public-private partnership that is necessary for effective industrial recruitment. Staff at the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, who worked with the county to submit an extensive application for the Middlesex site to be chosen for the program, work diligently to market the area to prospective businesses and industries that are considering the relocation or expansion of their operations. Economic development is at the top of the agenda of nearly every governing board and public leader in the Twin Counties.

But the competition is fierce. We are competing with other areas in the state, nation and even other countries for new industries and jobs. That can sometimes escalate into a bidding war with other communities or states with greater resources to provide more generous inducement packages.

While the national economy continues to show some slow but steady improvement, much of that modest growth has yet to affect the Twin Counties. Unemployment remains high above the national average, and the jobless rate of the Rocky Mount Metropolitan Statistical Area continues to be the highest in the state.

Stiff competition for jobs and sluggish economic growth are but two of the many challenges facing Twin Counties officials in their efforts to recruit industries and foster solid economic development. But ongoing partnerships between public and private sector groups – such as Duke’s Site Readiness Program – certainly are cause for some optimism.