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EDC developers kick-start new jobs effort

011719 Luncheon of 100
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Christian Lockamy (left), director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Commission, and Carl Rees, senior economic developer with ElectriCities, discuss a new plan for job growth in the city and county during a Committee of 100 luncheon at Montero's Restaurant on Wednesday.

011719 Luncheon of 100
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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, January 18, 2019

Economic developers are taking their first steps toward crafting a new jobs plan for Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, and they've already identified some likely industries for recruitment.

Christian Lockamy, director of the city-county Economic Development Commission, and Carl Rees, senior economic developer with ElectriCities, discussed the new plan for job growth during a Committee of 100 luncheon at Montero's Restaurant on Wednesday. Lockamy also discussed the plan earlier in the day at a meeting of the EDC board.

To lay the plan’s foundation, Lockamy has looked at statewide job announcements in Virginia and North Carolina, and researched the last 19 years' worth of business growth in and around what he referred to as Pasquotank County's “labor-shed.”

Lockamy explained a labor-shed is the region with significant employment tied to Pasquotank; it includes workers who commute to and from the county. Pasquotank’s labor shed extends outward by a more than 50-mile radius and includes the Outer Banks to the east, Williamston to the southwest, and Newport News, Virginia, to the north.

Some of the findings of Lockamy’s research include:

* Industrial firms made up 70 percent of announcements of new companies in Virginia in the last two years — including significant announcements in and around Norfolk — and 77 percent of such announcements in North Carolina. The remainder of announcements were for offices, high-tech companies and data centers, and chose to locate largely in large metro areas like Raleigh and Richmond, he said.

* Company announcements since 2017 have been heavily clustered around interstates and future interstates, which makes promoting and preserving Pasquotank's future I-87 corridor for major employers vital, he said.

* Since 2000, about 39,000 jobs have been created across southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, including new and expanding companies, but only about 10 percent of those jobs have been in North Carolina. Lockamy noted Suffolk and Isle of Wight counties have seen strong job growth, as has Martin County to the south. Success stories offer playbooks to steal from, he noted.

* For the region since 2000, some major job growth by sector includes: about 9,400 jobs from “office/tech/data centers”; 4,800 jobs from warehousing and distribution; 4,800 from food and beverage companies; 2,000 from automotive; 1,400 from clean energy; and 1,300 from aerospace. Growth industries are potential recruitment targets. Addressing clean energy, Lockamy explained the ideal would be to recruit manufacturing facilities, such as for solar panels, rather than solar or wind farms, which have fewer employees.

Lockamy proposed the new jobs plan last month, explaining that ElectriCities — the management firm for municipal power agencies like Elizabeth City — was offering its help, and the help of a consulting firm, in updating the city-county economic development plan. Lockamy valued the services at about $35,000, but said they’ll be free to the EDC because Elizabeth City is a customer of ElectriCities'. 

Rees and Lockamy explained the EDC will soon form a steering committee to supervise the plan. The committee will include representatives from Elizabeth City City Council, Pasquotank County commissioners, the Committee of 100, College of The Albemarle and Elizabeth City State University, Lockamy told the EDC board Wednesday.

County commissioner Lloyd Griffin asked why Lockamy didn't propose a member for the committee from Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools. Lockamy said he wanted to keep the committee small, and considered COA and ECSU more directly involved in economic development. ECPPS and numerous other groups will have input into the plan, he added.

ElectriCities will employ Creative Economic Development Consulting, of Elkin, in researching and assembling the plan, Rees explained. He said the company will “dig into every element of the local economy,” meet with community organizations, analyze opportunities and challenges, and identify target industries for recruitment.

When the new economic development plan is done, Rees said ElectriCities and Creative will offer “aftercare” to help implement it. However, Rees and Lockamy also suggested it will take focus, persistence, and patience to fulfill the plan and create a lot of good-paying jobs.

History shows economic development can take many years, Rees noted. The proponents of the Research Triangle Park were called “crazy” decades ago, and it took the city of Monroe near Charlotte more than 20 years to become an aerospace hub, he said.

The plan is supposed to be done this summer, according to Lockamy.

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