Rural counties band together to market region

By Nicholas Elmes nelmes@civitasmedia.com

March 27, 2014

Seven rural counties in the Piedmont Triad region will soon have new voice when seeking economic development prospects — themselves.

Stokes, Surry, Yadkin, Davie, Davidson, Rockingham, and Randolph counties are joining forces to form a new economic development marketing group which hopes to have a budget of $75,000 to attract new industry to rural communities. The formation of the group is a result of recent changes to state development initiatives which has eliminated funding for rural markets, according to Stokes County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Alan Wood.

“For about 15 years there were seven statewide partnerships in North Carolina,” said Wood. “Each year, up to the end of this fiscal year, there had been state funding to the regional partnerships to market all the communities in that partnership, both urban and rural.”

But in July that funding will go away.

“For rural communities, we depend on those funds for us to have a presence to market our communities,” said Wood. “When that goes away our ability to function in that game goes away. What we are trying to do now is to find a method to replace those funds in some way.”

Wood said each member of the new partnership has agreed to contribute $5,000 to a war chest and to seek matching funding from the state and, if necessary, from existing corporations.

The group sent a letter last week to Piedmont Triad Partnership Executive Director David Powell requesting funding help.

“We are using this opportunity to request that the Piedmont Triad Partnership provide an annual match, starting with the current fiscal year when state funds were appropriates on behalf of 10 counties in our region,” reads the letter. The Piedmont Triad Partnership describes it self as marketing 12 counties in the region, but currently only lists contact information for economic development agencies in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point and Alamance County on its website. “We believe that it is critical that we maintain a presence in the marketplace and that we can best accomplish this with a sub-regional marketing effort. The PTP Board has long recognized the region wide impact of economic development marketing and promotion. This investment creates a sustainable, collaborative program that promotes regional business growth and job creation.”

The group is waiting to hear back from the Piedmont Triad Partnership before finalizing some of their plans, but Wood said they would start marketing the seven counties starting in the second quarter of this year.

“If the Partnership determines that they will not provide funds, then we will seek out other sources within our communities,” said Wood. “That would be the corporate entities, which would have us compete against the partnership for the same funding.”

Wood said the new partnership has been working with the North Carolina Department of Commerce in developing its plans.

“We are not doing this as a rouge group,” said Wood, “We are doing this a group of concerned developers working in the system that we have. We are just trying to best position our communities to compete and successfully grow our industries with the resources we have.”

The new seven county consortium will use whatever funding they have to raise awareness of what the rural communities have to offer.

“We are talking about getting our name and face in front of of the site consultants who make determinations about where they will be taking projects,” said Wood. “We want to make sure they realize that the Piedmont Triad is more than the urban core.”

Initial prospects include industries that use lots of power and heavy machine companies.

“In heavy manufacturing energy costs can be a significant portion of their overhead so if you are able to tout low energy costs and show you have a workforce it makes you attractive,” said Wood.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.