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Five signs EC's potential investors would take seriously

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By Peter Thomson
Columnist

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Downtown Elizabeth City is humming with new construction and new investment as a result of hard work, city incentives and Historic Tax Credits. But once again we’ve been designated a Tier I county. 

It’s not something that you go around with a finger in the air yelling “We’re Tier One. We’re Tier One.” This designation says, that in relation to the rest of North Carolina, we’re still slipping slightly, ever so slightly, downhill. 

Yet many here still believe we can and should do better. Visitors regard us as an area with great possibilities and wonder why growth hasn’t happened here. For years now we’ve been waiting for boom times, but it’s always been, well, just around the corner. 

So what would be the signs that it’s all turning around? What could show the next big investor that Elizabeth City is the right place for his business, jobs and staff? Here are five indicators, in descending order, which outside investors/owners would take seriously:

5. Sustained growth at Elizabeth City State University. Our university is now securely under new management and starting a new era. Hopefully the brouhaha over the University of North Carolina’s management won’t affect us here and UNC’s support, financing, and approval of new low student fees will lead to continued growth. This could be feasible, especially if a reputation for excellence is developed in certain fields and more young people are drawn here by more than just a bargain education. Sustained growth and a good reputation at ECSU will add luster and value to the whole community.

4. Repurposing the Shipyard/All-State complex/Cotton Mill. We have a number of older, vacant manufacturing properties that need substantial investment to be revived. This kind of long-term investment is only possible with a guaranteed return on investment, whether it be through making and selling condos, bringing in new manufacturing or re-purposing. Whatever the change, these large, fallow sites need to be brought online, and should one or more be transformed, it’s a sign that outside money believes in the future of our town. Others will follow.

3. Landing a new substantial manufacturing business. Christian Lockamy, our new economic developer, has teamed with ElectriCities to point our development toward attracting manufacturing. If he can land a major firm, it could well start a trend of firms who look at Virginia, then save money by relocating here. It’s a great indicator easily noticed by business across the country.

2. The Harbor Town Project is funded. UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Harbor Town Project is getting a lot of talk in the Legislature and among nonprofit funders with its promise to create a regional tourism economy connected by a fast-ferry system. All five area counties and their five municipalities are behind the project, so, if funded, it will make our downtown both a real destination and a great place to invest as we morph into a center for sustained tourism activity.

1. Test scores rise in the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools. The hardest to happen is the one that would quickly make the most difference. While Pasquotank County has provided better funding for the school system, in rural North Carolina it’s hard to have enough money to attract great teachers, and the legislature shows no signs of providing more help. But low test scores are a root cause of our low growth. We’ve become a workplace commute for Coast Guard personnel and civilian contractors, university professors and administrators, doctors and other professionals. These folks love their school-age kids and are put off by ECPPS’ current test scores. A change here would bring an influx of relatively affluent working folks who could re-invigorate our town. This would result in a demographic sure to please any investor.

So while we’re a Tier I county we sure don’t have to stay one. The road to a more prosperous Elizabeth City can come from many directions, and folks are working hard to guide corporate investment here. You gotta believe!

Peter Thomson is a resident of Elizabeth City.

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