Growth can come from within

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 08:20 PM

Municipal leaders were reminded Wednesday economic growth can come from within and not just by attracting new business to a locality.

Billy Ray Hall, president of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, gave a presentation during the Henderson-Vance County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors meeting Wednesday afternoon. Municipal officials throughout Vance County were in attendance, including Henderson Mayor Pete O’Geary and former state Rep. Jim Crawford Jr.

“Economic development is perceived as business development,” Hall said. “Economic development is not just about bringing new business to Vance County.

“We have to develop existing business.”

According to Hall, 60 percent of job growth in North Carolina will come from existing business growth. He said the mission of the rural center is to develop, promote and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life for rural North Carolinians.

“The programs we have, you are very good at using,” said Hall, who has been president of the center since its inception in 1987. He guides the center’s work on behalf of the state’s 85 rural counties.

In the past five years, Hall says Vance County has received $5,404,098 in funding through the rural center.

“If you pull us out of the game, I think a lot of rural North Carolina recovery slams to a stop,” Hall said.

In addition to development, Hall presented three other areas of business development.

Physical infrastructure was the second building block mentioned.

“If you don’t have water and waste water, you don’t have the building blocks for economic development,” Hall said.

Currently, Vance County’s water project is growing with pipes being placed in the ground, and construction of phase 1A expected to be complete by June of this year.

Jerry Ayscue, the county manager, attended the meeting and said $1 million was received from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center going toward infrastructure on phase 1A of the project.

Natural gas and information technology are also considered components of physical infrastructure. They are scarcer in rural areas.

Education and workforce development, along with civic and social infrastructure, are the other two items Hall considered building blocks for economic development.

With just one-third of the population in Vance County having a degree beyond their high school diploma, Hall says challenges present themselves with regard to workforce development.

“We’ve got to work on graduating people in Vance County,” Hall said.

Countless programs are offered through the N.C. Rural Center, all of which work to provide equal opportunity to rural citizens.

Through the center’s Microenterprise Loan Program, $41,040 worth of loans have been provided to 15 Vance County citizens.

The program works with individuals who have sound ideas for starting or expanding a small business, but may not qualify for bank loans.

Prior to local solar panel manufacturing plant Semprius becoming part of Vance County’s economic landscape in late September 2012, it received restoration and upfitting through the rural center’s Building Reuse and Restoration Grants Program.

Grants offered through the program assist communities in maximizing the economic potential of existing structures.

According to Stuart Litvin, director of the Henderson-Vance County EDC, half of Semprius’ building used to be unoccupied.

“It didn’t even have a floor,” Crawford said. “It was a dirt floor.”

Today, the world’s smallest and highest efficiency solar modules are being manufactured in the space.

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.