Economic Development in Burke: A 12-month Plan
Last month I shared information about how economic development is defined and how economic development activities differ by community. This month I would like to share some of the specific activities that Burke Development will carry out over the next 12 months.
In June we held a strategic planning session with our Board of Directors to discuss economic development efforts, identify key priorities and outline goals that should be accomplished in the coming year.
In evaluating our strengths, many themes emerged including our location with direct access to Interstate 40; our low cost of water, sewer and power; as well as strong partnerships between local governments, Western Piedmont Community College, Burke County Public Schools and private sector partners.
Major issues and opportunities that emerged included the opportunities with state properties, a need to address population loss in regards to workforce development, growth of manufacturing assets and a lack of sites and buildings.
Following these discussions BDI staff composed our 2015-2016 Plan of Work, which details four main priority areas: Existing Industry, Industry Recruitment, Small Business/Entrepreneurship/Industry Clusters, and Workforce Development.
It is very important to have a strong existing industry program because 80 to 90 percent of all growth in rural communities comes from existing industry and homegrown businesses. The program calls for regular visits with manufacturing companies – including a few visits per year to headquarter facilities. We will assist with expansions through grants, training and assistance with new construction, when needed. We will also hold special events for manufacturers and serve as a liaison with local and state partners.
The next body of work is industry recruitment, which outlines strategies that will attract new companies to our County. This is the most highly publicized role of a local economic developer but in many ways the hardest. Annually, there are approximately 500 major economic development projects in the U.S. so competition is tough.
We plan to increase our opportunities by creating and maintaining strong relationships with the Economic Development Partnership of NC, site consultants, brokers and the NC Department of Commerce. We will also develop new marketing materials to leverage our key sites, target industry sectors and create a task force to work on infrastructure and site development. Our recruitment efforts will be focused on select industry clusters that we feel can be supported by our workforce and infrastructure.
Another important key to economic development, especially in rural areas, is entrepreneurship and supporting high-growth, scalable companies. Burke Development plans to do this by acting as the lead organization for BEBO (Burke Entrepreneurs and Business Owners), providing resources to scalable companies, and further developing competitive advantages for small- to mid-size companies – like the Carolina Textile District.
Workforce development has become a larger piece of the economic development conversation in recent years as the manufacturing skills gap has emerged and become a concern for all communities across the country.
In addition to maintaining relationships with workforce development partners and expanding existing training opportunities, Burke Development will develop a task force that evaluates ways to maximize our workforce and skilled workers for future growth. This will lead to a five-year, internal marketing plan that will address the long term needs of workforce development in Burke County and will involve partners from private industry, local governments, K-12 Schools and WPCC.
As we explained in last month’s editorial, the work of a local economic developer can be vast and can vary over time. We look forward to implementing these strategies and then evaluating our progress after a year to see how we can improve. Ultimately, we believe these activities will support and promote the development of jobs, investment and wealth within our community – which is our stated goal.