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East Carolina University
Moderated by UNC-TV’s Director of Production, Shannon Vickery, this topical, televised event features an interactive dialogue among expert panelists, representing local leadership in education, policy and industry, and viewers like you.
Participating experts include: Patrick N. Woodie, Vice President, Rural Development Programs, North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, Inc.; Dr. Paul R. G. Cunningham, MD, FACS is the Dean and the Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University; Sidney "Chip" W. Zullinger, Superintendent, Bertie County Schools;Darlene Waddell, Executive Director, Global Transpark, Kinston, NC; andDale Carroll, Deputy Commerce Secretary, North Carolina Department of Commerce.
Topics for discussion include opportunities from the health care industry, the future of the area's Global TransPark, how nonprofits fit into the regional economic development equation, and the role of entrepreneurs in eastern North Carolina.
Community members and leaders from across eastern North Carolina gathered at the Heart Institute NC Rising ECU Town Hall Meetingat the Brody School of Medicine on East Carolina University's campus for the final town hall meeting of the North Carolina Rising series. With tobacco no longer supporting rural eastern communities like it used to, communities are trying to find ways to make it through tough times and thrive in the future. Farmers' profit margins are slimming, fishing communities are struggling, and adequate health care is lacking. Job loss has occurred by the thousands and is only coming back by the dozens. Considering all of these challenges, the topic of conversation at this meeting is how eastern NC can transform itself to be competitive in a global economy.
Although the region is experiencing unemployment rates in the double digits in some areas, including Edgecombe County which is now over 16%, the future is not bleak for eastern NC. As Dale Carroll emphasized, eastern NC has a lot to offer. The region boasts national and international companies and a prestigious university with an innovative medical school, and Greenville is now becoming a hub of technology and industry. Patrick Woodie also added that while eastern NC faces healthcare challenges more than other areas, the Heart Institute and the Brody School of Medicine are working to meet those challenges. In addition, the region's close proximity to military bases offers many opportunities for military contracts for both large and small businesses. When it comes to attracting and retaining businesses, Darlene Waddell suggests that companies are looking for an educated, skilled workforce. Labor studies have proven that this workforce workforce exists in eastern NC, and putting all the factors together will make eastern NC a marketable region.
Dr. Zullinger turned the conversation to a major point of concern for many residents in eastern NC, by emphasizing that "it all starts with education." According to Zullinger, the region has a tremendous amount of diversity, including the four poorest counties with the neediest school systems, as well as some of the best funded systems including Weldon city schools. He believes that school districts can be a huge economic engine, emphasizing that over a billion dollars is spent on each year on the education of children in NC.
NC Rising ECU Town Hall MeetingA question from a viewer via the internet then turned the conversation to economic incentives for businesses, asking why the economic incentives given to promote new factories seem to focus on the Piedmont region, which is already prosperous, instead of on eastern NC, where the need is so acute.
Carroll explained that state incentives in NC are focused by the level of prosperity in a community and the severity of the level of distress, and organized into tier rankings. Many communities in eastern NC fall into tier 1, which is the most serious category. An effective system in Carroll's opinion, the incentives have helped companies such as DRS technologies, a company that collaborated with the Golden Leaf Foundation and local governments to put together a successful recruitment package. According to Carroll, many people believe that incentives are giveaways, but "it's really an investment," he emphasizes. Waddell agreed, citing the Global Transpark as a model for future projects, since Spirit Aerosystems was a large collaboration that involved many agencys, and would not have been possible without government incentives and grants from the Golden Leaf Foundation. Woodie, in reference to the Global Transpark, then recalled the fact that the Research Triangle Park is now a recognized technological center, but it wasn't always that way. It took upward of 25 years for it to reach that status. Eastern NC is on a similar path, but communities need to ensure that their citizens are completing their schooling and moving onto community colleges and universities in order to continue on that path.
Dr. Zullinger believes that given the economic times, local communities still need to consider their current resources. Especially when it comes to funding projects within the community, it takes initiatives and visionary leadership at the community level. Looking at the concept of existing assets, Dr. Cunningham brought up the fact that the medical school at ECU recruits only NC residents. So far, the school has graduated 1600 doctors, and 60% of them are still in NC and about 30% are still in Eastern NC, which is an important statistic for the region. As industries move into this region, they will be looking at the health care that is available and how it is distributed across the region. He pointed out that poverty and social disadvantage often go hand in hand with healthcare challenges. Since eastern NC is generally an under-served area, the retention of doctors is good for the economy because adequate health care will attract industry and practitioners who stay in the area, open an offices and hire employees, which also stimulates the economy.
Will your children or grandchildren be able to make a living in this region?
Is enough being done to lure new businesses to the area?
Do you actively support local businesses?
Yes, always - 57%
Sometimes - 43%
No - 0%
Woodie admitted that none of these answer surprises him. He says that the three ways to grow NC Rising ECU Town Hall Meetingbusiness in an area are recruitment, entrepreneurship, and retaining business thats already there. He believes that retaining existing businesses is the way that eastern NC can grow and thrive, and that the resources and tools to help them grow and stay here already exist. These tools include the business service center offered by the Department of Commerce, where business owners can take advantage of Buisiness Link NC, 11 statewide organizations that can provide support for small businesses.
Dr. Zullinger then brought up a similar project within the Bertie County school system, in which they are connecting families with technology. One of Senator Perdue's goals, in terms of education, is to create one portral for K-20, specifically for education. Right now, 85% of the kids in Bertie County are in poverty; 10% of parents have internet, mostly dial-up. The school system is now working with several organizations to figure out how each family can been connected with broadband and computers. Dr. Zullinger believes that having this technology is part of engaging parents in education, by reconnecting parents and the school in a virtual way.
Continuing the role of early education in economic development, an audience member asked what benefit, if any, to current and future economic development efforts does quality child care provide, and how can citizens get community partners to support early learning environments?
Dr. Zullinger asked the audience to think about what a poor child and poor family needs to be successful; his answer is to get to them sooner. He cited efforts to reopen schools with state lottery funds and to offer quality early education to children at an earlier age (4 years old instead of 5). He believes that by getting kids ready to start school earlier, they will be successful later on. Woodie agreed and extended that to the parents: he supports the idea that if parents in the workforce feel good about the educational opportunities offered to their kids, they will be more productive workers and will support more initiatives in their communities.
An audience question from Wanda Yuhas, executive director of the Pitt County Development Commission, turned the discussion back local business. Yuhas said that the commission is a close partner of East Carolina University, and in just the last six weeks, launched a number of initiatives that originated in the medical school. After launching start-ups and preparing them to become full-fledged companies, Wanda asked how to keep them in the area and how to communicate the fact that such amazing things are coming out of eastern NC to other parts of the state. Dr. Cunnigham answered by assuring Yuhas that the school is committed to inovatiion and that the school is already well known for the technology that comes out of its programs. The school also has an initiative that fosters incubators to help them become businesses. He happily added that the medical center is full of innovators. Woodie then emphasized that while regional partnerships do create jobs, it needs to be a consistent collaboration to get the word out across the state. There are tremendous opps for comoanies to spin out of universities, and a major factor in keeping them in the area is having the capital and long-term incentives to attract them to stay.
What do you believe would most improve the economic oulook for the region with jobs being the ultimate goal?
A. More educational opps 50%
B. Improved infrastructure 19%
C. Increase in federal state or loval incentives 6%
D. Better leading to promote communities' assets 25%
Dr. Cunningham agreed with the results because he believes that "education is synonymous with leadership." Every student is a leader, and there is no better method of spreading the word about eastern NC than beginning with them. He added that the process begins early on in high school. At the Brody School of Medicine, all of the student are NC residents, and this sort of retention should be apply to all professions.
NC Rising ECU Town Hall MeetingWaddell added that she believes education is the key to becoming whatever one wants to become, but that infrastructure is just as important. During her experience with the Global Transpark, she has seen some missed opportunities in the past because eastern NC did not have the road networks and infrastructure necessary to support some projects. Since then, those improvements have changed eastern NC and warrant investment in the future.
Dr. Zullinger summarized the night's discussion by noting that a stength in eastern NC is the successful communication between leaders, comparing the area to "a small town with really long roads." The communication allows all of the area's current initiatives to be successful and increases the potential for progress in the future.