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Economic Development Organization Releases Strategic Plan

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Feb 12, 2021
North Carolina's Southeast, an 18-county regional economic development organization headquartered in Elizabethtown, has recently released its three-year strategic plan.

The North Carolina’s Southeast Strategic Plan 2021-2024 serves as a roadmap for the organization's work over the next three years, including work in the Wilmington micro-region of New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick and Columbus counties.

Within that plan are regional economic growth goals of helping generate 1,350 new jobs, $270 million in investment, and attract 18 companies to the 18-county region, according to the plan.

The last strategic plan was for 2017-2020, said Steve Yost, president of North Carolina's Southeast.

Over the last plan, the organization exceeded its jobs and industry attraction goals. The end-of-plan investment goal, however, was not met, and may have been impacted some by COVID, Yost said, adding, “the result was still very strong.”

Over the course of the 2017-2020 strategic plan, the organization had a goal of helping generate 1.080 new jobs, $540 million in investment, and 18 companies locating in the region.

Figures released by North Carolina’s Southeast on Friday show the organization achieved 1,807 new jobs, $360.8 million in investment and helped attract 20 new companies to the region.

​The latest strategic plan also charts out marketing and advocacy strategies; defines regional economic growth goals; and is meant to strengthen the organization’s mission to bring new jobs, private investment and more industry to the overall region, stated the release.

Officials worked to set up a flexible strategic plan that is adaptable to change to give an overall blueprint that integrates some of the findings and trends in the organization's recent North Carolina's Southeast Competitive Positioning 2020, a lengthy business sector target analysis and workforce analysis, released at the same time as the new strategic plan. That report also included COVID-19 impacts.

"So we have incorporated some of those findings as well," Steve Yost, president of North Carolina's Southeast, said Friday. "This is somewhat an organizational strategic plan that will guide our organization's direction ... it's not a strategic plan for the whole region on where everybody in the region should be going on economic development. But it's where we fit in, obviously, and what we can do to generate new economic growth opportunities in our 18 counties. So I think we have a real solid visionary plan based on that criteria."

The region's targeted sectors were adjusted and narrowed down to five for this next three-year plan, down from nine in the previous plan.

The adjustments were based on data and trends from the analysis and changing landscape, Yost said.

The expanding, existing and emerging industry sectors being targeted in this three-year strategy are the advanced textiles, agriculture and food processing industries; distribution and logistics; metalworking; and aerospace and defense sectors.

Although not in the strategic plan specifically, Yost said that for the Wilmington micro-region, target sectors will also include advanced manufacturing, fintech and the life sciences industries. 

"I think it's possible we will later this calendar year look at possibly doing some deeper supply-chain analysis in the Wilmington micro-region around some of the key industry sectors ... initially more with advanced manufacturing, analyzing supplier companies that may be tied to larger advance manufacturing companies in the region to see if there are opportunities to pursue and recruit companies that they may be connected to," Yost said.

Part of that, he said, could be tied to some of the potential onshoring of businesses due to COVID.

A major center of the economic development marketing efforts for the micro-region center around key assets, including the Port of Wilmington, at-port industrial sites, the Wilmington International Airport and other infrastructure, as well as the area's educational institutions and diverse business base.

An enhancement in the new plan places a greater emphasis on the advocacy of key strategic issues that directly impact economic development, he said.

"I think a prime example of that is addressing the internet/broadband gaps that we have across the region," Yost said. "We do have some weaknesses in our urban areas including in the Wilmington micro-region ... we plan to get more engaged in partnering up with others to advocate for a push for strategies and funding for broadband expansion across the region."

North Carolina's Southeast plans to work with local, state and federal policymakers to support that effort, he said, adding that other infrastructure needs will also be addressed.

The organization is now in its 27th year, leading efforts in economic development marketing, partnership building, project management and collective advocacy, stated the release.

Officials worked to develop the plan even after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and over the course of the planning adjusted some of the market strategies last year to fit in with the impacts of the pandemic.

“It was a collaborative process with input from across a wide array of stakeholders,” John Nelms, a North Carolina's Southeast Board member, said in the release.

Nelms, who is a senior economic development manager at Duke Energy and chaired the organization's Strategic Planning Committee, said that the committee began work just before the COVID-19 crisis struck last year.

"We did evaluate the landscape and did our research after COVID set in and it looked like it was going to be a long-haul situation, crisis, national and for all of us," Yost said. "And we pivoted some of our strategies to figure out how to do marketing, how to connect with the decision-makers to continue to promote the Southeast region and the Wilmington micro-region."
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