The coronavirus pandemic hit just as economic indicators were beginning to improve for Edgecombe County.

And while those indicators dropped all the way to the bottom of the scale, there was slippage in a number of areas as job reductions — and in some cases layoffs — hit the county.

Still, economic development continued and as recently as the Rocky Mount Economic Summit on Dec. 3, Rocky Mount Area Chamber President David Farris said, “There’s just a lot going on … action we’ve never seen before. Rarely, if ever, had we seen this kind of activity before (the pandemic).”

But about that same time, the state Department of Commerce was releasing data that showed Edgecombe County to be the state’s most economically distressed county for the fourth straight year.

The ratings are state-mandated and based on four factors:

  • Average unemployment rate for the most recent 12 months for which data are available.
  • Median household income for the most recent 12 months for which data are available.
  • Percentage growth in population for the most recent 36 months for which data are available.
  • Adjusted property tax base per capita for the most recent taxable year.

During 2020, Corning moved into its new 800,000-square-foot warehouse distribution center at Hartsease while work continued on the CSX Carolina Connector being constructed along CSX’s A-line, which runs along the western boundary of Edgecombe County.

The pandemic threw this project behind as well, as travel restrictions prevented as many as 30 engineers from traveling from Europe to Rocky Mount to assemble the cranes that will be used to offload as many as 110,000 containers annually.

With the intermodal facility to be located just north of Rocky Mount and the CSX Kingsboro Select located on the CSX Tarboro Subdivision midway between Rocky Mount and Tarboro, opportunities to connect the region to the world multiplied through ports at Wilmington and Norfolk, as well as I-95, U.S. 64 and future I-87.

According to CSX, the project will be operational by the end of the first quarter 2021.

The terminal will have three wide-span, zero-emission electric cranes and container handling will be completely automatic, with operators remotely controlling the initial lift and final placement from inside the terminal building.

And for the first time, Triangle Tire acknowledged the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China had led to the delay in building the 5-million-square-foot plant.

The plant, Triangle’s first outside China, was announced in December 2017 and Phase I was to have been operational by this time with the entire facility operational by 2023.

Carolinas Gateway Partnership President and CEO Norris Tolson told the Telegram that the last time he had talked with Triangle, they still were committed to Edgecombe County and would start construction as soon as the trade issues eased.

Triangle initially said it would employ 800 people at nearly $56,000 annually, although that employment number later was revised to 1,200.

Edgecombe had started the year off with a bang, when Sara Lee Frozen Foods announced a $19.8 million expansion that would add 108 jobs at its Tarboro facility.

Just months earlier, Sara Lee celebrated 30 years in Tarboro and Edgecombe County and its first anniversary since becoming Sara Lee Frozen Foods.

In February, N.C. Armorock announced a $6.6 million project to locate in the Battleboro community and create 55 jobs. N.C. Armorock is the world’s largest manufacturer of polymer concrete structures.

Then in April, Utah-based Focus Services LLC, a customer service organization, announced it would open a call center in downtown Tarboro.

Focus, which already had a location in Greenville, was looking for a second location in eastern North Carolina and was eyeing Rocky Mount when company officials were made aware of Tarboro.

Just a few weeks later, hiring had begun, training was underway and the center’s opening close at hand.

As the year progressed, the Carolinas Gateway Partnership announced that the Tarboro shell building project had been leased and that as soon as that deal was closed, construction would start on a second facility in the Tarboro Commerce Center. Both are 65,000 square feet and expandable to 120,000.

That announcement was part of a larger one that included construction of a series of shell buildings to draw developers and investors interested in the area.

A 100,000-square-foot spec building, expandable to 200,000 square feet, will be completed at Kingsboro during the first quarter of 2021.

As the year headed into the home stretch, Wolf and Flow X-Ray, a fourth-generation medical imaging manufacturer, announced it would relocate from Deer Park, N.Y., about 40 miles east of Manhattan, to the Fountain Industrial Park.

The company said it will invest more than $4.5 million to relocate their headquarters and manufacturing operations, including 68 jobs, to Edgecombe County.

Farris, who made the Carolinas Gateway presentation at the Rocky Mount Economic Summit, noted that the agency has 63 active projects.

“That’s probably 50 percent of the projects statewide,” he said. “That’s to say we’re in play.”

Farris shared a graphic showing what was identified as CGP’s “top 10 highly active projects out of a total of 63 active projects.”

The 10 represent nearly 6,000 jobs and $1.758 billion in investment.

All of those will not come to fruition, but it does underscore Farris’ statement that the region — and Edgecombe County — is “in play.”