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Business recruiter: Time for an interstate

“Having that shield does make a difference.”
NCEast’s John Chaffee on the need for a freeway

By William F. West
Staff Writer The Daily Advance
Saturday, April 4, 2015

The leader of a regional economic development group said that a freeway via Elizabeth City is needed to help boost commerce between the Raleigh-Durham area and Virginia’s Hampton Roads area.

“It’s about time that northeastern North Carolina has an interstate,” NCEast Alliance President John Chaffee said at the recent quarterly meeting of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Committee of 100.

Chaffee told the group not to get tied up about the specifics of where the freeway would be built, but to remember the big picture about businesses and industries wanting to locate near an interstate.

“There’s a big gaping hole in the northeast,” he said of the lack of an interstate. “And this is an effort to be able to rectify that.”

“Having that shield does make a difference,” he said of the red, white and blue sign being a key in recruiting business and industrial prospects.

U.S. 64 resembles a freeway east from Raleigh and is co-signed as Future Interstate 495 to Rocky Mount.
Supporters of a high-speed corridor also want future interstate signs put up on the freeway-like U.S. 64 from Rocky Mount to Williamston.

They also want future interstate signs put up on U.S. 17 from Williamston into Hampton Roads. While that segment of U.S. 17 is mostly four lanes, motorists encounter traffic signals in Williamston, at part of Windsor, at Midway, in Hertford, at Winfall and at Morgans Corner.

N.C. Division 1 Chief Engineer Jerry Jennings said that the cost on North Carolina’s side of the border would be approximately $1 billion to transform both routes into an interstate.

Chaffee spoke to the Committee of 100 on Wednesday. He gave an outline about NCEast, which was based in Kinston but which is now based in Greenville and which now represents 26 counties.

NCEast had been one of a group of state-supported private and public economic development partnerships until state lawmakers decided to defund them, leaving them with having to find new sources of funding.

The former North Carolina’s Northeast Alliance, which had long been a partnership based at Edenton and whose service area included the Albemarle, decided to merge with NCEast at the start of this year. Chaffee brought former Northeast President Vann Rogerson aboard with NCEast as a senior vice president and also retained two of four former Northeast staffers.

The Committee of 100 serves as an advisory group to the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Committee.

Chaffee said that NCEast was originally similar to the Committee of 100, but that NCEast’s activities were ramped up through the years to be a primary economic development organization and perform a variety of tasks. They include marketing and public relations, along with identifying economic development clusters to help attract business and industrial prospects.

Chaffee said that NCEast’s role in marketing and public relations involves promoting business and industrial development on a regional scale to better attract nationwide publicity to benefit eastern North Carolina.

“What we want to do is be a collective voice,” he said.

Chaffee said that, generally, local economic developers want him and NCEast to go out and identify companies wanting to invest approximately $20 million in a new manufacturing plant that employs approximately 100 people.

Chaffee said that he and the NCEast’s team’s strategy is to stay ahead of consultants hired by companies seeking a narrow list of finalists for business or industrial sites. He said that he and the NCEast team instead goes to meet prospects at specialty shows and also seeks out small-to-medium sized businesses who don’t pay experts and who themselves want a business or industrial site that meets their needs.

A key tool to helping prospects fit those needs is putting economic development clusters on an Internet-powered graphic or map. That way, one can scan the region and see what kind of companies, as well as what kinds of federal agencies and departments, are presently in northeastern North Carolina.

Using the cluster method, Chaffee showed the Committee of 100 an illustration of the huge military and homeland security presence, which includes Coast Guard Base Elizabeth City. More than 80,400 are employed by the military or homeland security in the region.

“It’s a big driver of the economy of eastern North Carolina,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee also showed the impact of aerospace, which can include a crossover with defense. There are more than 11,800 jobs in aerospace and defense products in the region.

“It’s all about keeping pilots in the air and making sure their aircraft is ready to go when they are,” Chaffee said.

With a cluster snapshot now visible, Chaffee said that NCEast decided to focus on defense and aerospace, along with agriculture that adds value to products. He also said that NCEast decided to include a focus on the life sciences industry, which involves microorganisms, animals, people and plants.

Chaffee said life sciences suppliers employ anywhere from 8,000 to 9,000 in areas just east of Raleigh and in the Greenville, Rocky Mount and Wilson areas. At the same time, he emphasized the supply chain stretches down into Carteret County.

Using the cluster method, Chaffee said he and the NCEast team can then go out and tell prospects which business or service in the northeastern part of the state resembles theirs. He also said he and the NCEast team can approach or contact prospects and tell them about gaps in the supply chains of a particular business or service, which means there’ll be potential customers for them in the region.

“We don’t want people simply to think that eastern North Carolina is the place that you drive through and see beautiful fields of tobacco and soybeans and corn on your way to the beach,” he said. “There are other things that take place here.”

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