Q&A Economic Development

With Christopher Chung, CEO of the EDPNC

Golden LEAF works in partnership with other entities across the state to bolster economic development, especially in rural, tobacco-dependent and economically distressed areas. One of the Foundation’s partners is the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC). Christopher Chung, EDPNC’s CEO, addressed the partnership and economic development in North Carolina.

What is your organization’s role in economic development?

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) is a nonprofit corporation that serves as North Carolina’s statewide economic development marketing and sales organization. We operate under contract with the North Carolina Department of Commerce and work closely with Commerce across all our responsibilities.

We perform five core functions on behalf of the state: recruiting businesses to locate or add facilities here, supporting the growth of existing businesses, connecting exporters to international customers, counseling small-business startups, and promoting North Carolina as a premier destination for tourism, retirement and film production.

When North Carolina lawmakers established the EDPNC five years ago, it joined other states embracing a public-private partnership model that enables raising private-sector investment to supplement public funding dedicated to economic development.

What organizations do you consider to be key economic development partners? 

Economic development is a team sport. What we accomplish is done in partnership with a variety of local and state, public-and private-sector players. In rural communities, Golden LEAF is one of our key partners.

Statewide, our biggest partners include the Governor, Secretary of Commerce, and the General Assembly; state agencies including the community college system and Department of Transportation, which provide critical support in areas such as workforce training and infrastructure; local economic development organizations, including tourism development authorities; private-sector partners such as utilities that help companies address site-readiness needs; and North Carolina businesses whose private investment supports our overall mission.

What are some of the major success stories involving Golden LEAF support you have seen in rural economic development since serving in your role?

Most importantly, Golden LEAF grants supplement what local governments in rural communities can do to fund public water and sewer infrastructure and upskill the local workforce pipeline.

Consider Golden LEAF’s support of the Kingsboro site in Edgecombe County, which in 2017 landed one of the largest manufacturing project investments ever in Eastern North Carolina. Chinese tire manufacturer Triangle Tyre has announced it will build a $580-million state-of-art facility there that is expected to create up to 800 jobs that will pay, on average $56,450, about 70 percent higher than the county’s average wage. That’s an incredible impact.

A $10 million Golden LEAF grant will help build an advanced manufacturing training center at Kingsboro, which will train potential employees of Triangle Tyre and other area manufacturers. In 2016, before Triangle Tyre chose the location, Golden LEAF granted $7 million toward proactively developing water and sewer infrastructure serving the site.  That infrastructure also serves a site across the street from the Triangle Tyre location at which Corning is building a new facility.

Another good example is Golden LEAF’s $1 million grant for public sewer infrastructure at the I-85 Corporate Center in Davidson County, where Austrian EGGER Wood Products is building a $700-million plant expected to create up to 770 new jobs. It’s the first large development at the county-owned site, which in turn should help attract additional companies there.

Of course, local and state government incentives also supported Triangle Tyre’s and EGGER’s decisions to build their first U.S. plants in rural North Carolina. But Golden LEAF is an absolutely critical piece of the puzzle in attracting large and small projects to rural counties across the state.

What advantages does North Carolina have to offer over others in the area of economic growth?

We offer a high quality of life alongside affordable costs of living and doing business. We’ve got great educational institutions and a world-class talent pool that includes the largest manufacturing workforce in the Southeast. Our population growth rate is among the country’s fastest, fueled largely by in-migration. And our central East Coast location and road, rail, air service and ports infrastructure connect us to major domestic and global markets.

These are just a few reasons why highly respected business rankings consistently list North Carolina among the top states to do business. For example, we’re currently No. 1 on Forbes’ Best States for Business list. We recently jumped to No. 3 on CNBC’s 2019 ranking of America’s Top States for Business.  And we rank fourth in Chief Executive magazine’s latest annual survey asking CEOs to list their top-tier states for business.

I think our well-rounded and diverse economy gives us a long-term edge over many other states. In fact, CNBC’s recent ranking says no state’s economy is on more solid ground than ours.

What tools does your organization have to help create economic growth?

Our best recruitment tools are the state’s many business assets, some of which I’ve already outlined. But if the EDPNC’s own strategies can be considered among our tools, we’ve sharpened a few in recent years.

For example, we have substantially expanded our business development team, which generates leads for our business recruiters to actively pursue. The team proactively identifies and develops relationships with global and domestic companies poised to expand in the U.S. If this team is doing its job well, top executives will know all about North Carolina ― and the EDPNC ― before their site search ever starts.

We can’t just wait for projects to come to us, particularly when a potential slowdown in national economic growth is likely to affect every state’s project pipeline in the next few years.

This emphasis in proactive business development includes opening the state’s first FDI office in India last year, dedicated to increasing Indian investment into North Carolina. Over the past five years, North Carolina ranked No. 1 among all states for the number of announced jobs connected to Indian FDI and No. 3 for investment dollars involved. We’re well-positioned to attract more of the same.

Increasing exports also supports the growth of businesses across the state. So in 2018, we opened North Carolina’s first permanent Middle East trade office in Dubai, offering a full suite of EDPNC support services to businesses that want to export to Arab Gulf nations.

What are your goals in creating the best atmosphere for economic development? 

Our primary purpose is to market all 100 counties of the state for economic development, so we are not necessarily involved directly in shaping public policy that influences our business climate. That said, we are in daily contact with corporate executives pondering where to relocate or expand. To the extent that we can communicate their concerns and priorities to state leadership, we hope that contributes to making North Carolina an even better place for business.

How is North Carolina working to be more competitive now and in the future for economic growth?

In recent years, the state has invested in education, incentives, broadband and transportation infrastructure in ways that support our competitiveness. For example, a $3 billion bond issue approved in 2018 will fast-track needed local and regional transportation projects across the state.

The state has also tweaked its flagship incentive program to make it more competitive, particularly for high-impact projects creating thousands of well-paying jobs. While incentives are rarely the primary reason a prospective company chooses a particular location, they often tip the scales when a company is deciding among a few otherwise closely matched finalists.

I’ve also seen local, state and private partners ― including Golden LEAF ― invest significantly in making sure several megasites in the state are well-prepared to host large-scale manufacturers that need to locate on 1,000 or more contiguous acres. That’s key to attracting a transformative, hugely impactful employer such as an auto assembly plant.

What are your thoughts on post-secondary education as an economic driver?

The state’s community colleges and higher education institutions are extremely important to our business recruitment efforts. They fuel our skilled workforce pipeline, and access to a strong workforce is a No. 1 concern of companies.

Our 58-campus community college system is the third-largest in the U.S., offering degrees and certifications in high-demand technical skills. It’s also a national leader in customized workforce training that can cater to a business we are recruiting.

And our 53 colleges and universities are among the best in the country, including three Tier 1 research universities – Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State. Not only do these universities produce graduates that enter the workforce, but many of them enable industry partnerships with academia to drive and accelerate the innovation that all companies are seeking.

How important are large industries to our state? 

Large and small businesses are equally important in supporting the state’s economy. Small businesses (those the SBA defines as having fewer than 500 employees) employ nearly half the state’s workers while large companies account for the rest.

Of course, big companies have an outsized economic impact through their sheer number of employees. But large companies in innovation-driven industries such as information technology, life sciences, finance, and professional services also help fuel our small-business community. That happens when employees at large employers leave to launch their own cutting-edge startups.

How important is entrepreneurship to our state? 

It’s extremely important, and it’s a growing asset in our business recruitment. North Carolina attracted some $2.6 billion in venture capital in 2018, the sixth-highest figure in the nation, according to CNBC.

Established companies want to be where there is a strong climate of entrepreneurship and innovation. It obviously means access to workforce talent and acquisition opportunities. But big corporations can also partner with early-stage businesses in ways that help them become more creative and nimble.

We strongly pitch North Carolina’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in our recruiting. Consider India-based global technology consultant Infosys. When Infosys was considering Raleigh for a 2,000-job tech and innovation hub to serve its U.S. clients, it was surprised to learn that more than 500 startups operate in the region. And many of those startups are in fintech, pharma and clean energy – three big areas of focus for Infosys. Infosys is interested in partnering with such startups, so Wake County’s entrepreneurial strength ― and that of the broader Research Triangle region ― was a bonus that helped it win the project.

What are our biggest growth industries today?

Industries where North Carolina continues to compete well against other states include food and beverage processing and manufacturing, biotech and pharmaceuticals, IT, financial services including fintech, and automotive and aerospace manufacturing. Nearly 70 percent of the EDPNC’s recruitment and expansion projects involve manufacturing – ranging from textiles to chemicals, furniture to life sciences.

In what sectors would you like to see industry growth?

Of course, we’d like to see well-paying jobs grow in all sectors across all 100 counties. But in recent years, the state and the EDPNC have dedicated additional resources to recruiting in three specific industries, all of which present opportunities for both rural and urban counties.

We have a statewide business recruiter focused on winning more food and beverage manufacturing operations, particularly value-added processors who use locally grown crops and agricultural commodities in their final product. North Carolina grows over 80 commodities, and a large percentage of that is shipped out of the state and processed elsewhere. We are focused on the great opportunity to do more of that processing here.

We also have a business development manager working to make sure the state is a top contender for defense-related companies considering where to locate or expand. Those prospects are in sectors ranging from aerospace and cybersecurity to artificial intelligence and technical textiles.

Finally, we have a business development position dedicated to growing the state’s outdoor recreation industry, which is already a significant economic force in North Carolina, creating $28 billion annually in consumer spending and supporting 260,000 jobs.

About Christopher Chung, CEO of EDPNC

In 2015, Christopher Chung joined the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) as Chief Executive Officer. Chris brings nearly 22 years of state-level economic development experience to his role.

As a public-private partnership, the EDPNC is responsible for a number of economic development functions on behalf of the State of North Carolina, including new business recruitment, existing business support, international trade and export assistance, small business start-up counseling, and tourism, sports, and film promotion. With a staff of more than 65 professionals and an annual operating budget of more than $24 million, the EDPNC is focused on improving the economic well-being and quality of life for North Carolina’s 10 million residents.

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