State of the Region improving, thanks to multiple initiatives
GREENVILLE — The NC East Alliance held its annual conference here at the Hilton Hotel last Thursday, May 14. The event highlighted various economic development activities that are happening throughout our state.
President John Chaffee offered an overview of efforts occurring at the state level as well as the activities of his own organization. In providing a historical reference, he explained that the NC East Alliance is the result of several mergers with other groups, following the removal of state funding for organizations such as the Northeast Commission that became a self-funded Public Private Partnership before the merger.
In so doing, the new organization exists solely on contributions from companies doing business in the state that might benefit from these activities. Chaffee announced that the NC East Alliance will partner with the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center to help small and medium sized manufacturers connect with automotive and aerospace supply outlets and do this through a restart of the Rural Jobs Accelerator.
The goal of the $1.1 million project is to assist manufacturers in creating and growing sales to international as well as domestic automotive and aerospace markets. Companies can receive assistance with development of their financial, marketing, technical, and management capabilities, both new and existing.
A component that is critical to the success of this project is the STEM-based employment and career opportunities. These two sectors within the public schools and community colleges will be a huge part of the success.
This project is funded by Duke Energy, the US Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The NC East Alliance, the Small Business and Technology Administration, and the NCSU Industrial Extension Service will provide direct support to companies.
Although business starts have improved since the recession, there is much more to accomplish. In this context, Chaffee outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the area. He stated that most employers maintain a workforce of between 10-90 people while larger companies of 500 or more have seen their numbers reduced as manufacturing jobs have declined.
STEM East is a program to develop the employees of tomorrow for the jobs of the 21st Century. Dr. Steven Hill was introduced to talk about his program. He asked a group of his STEM students from around the region to stand and be recognized. Everyone in attendance was impressed with these young people and their commitment to learning in the teaching environment of today for the jobs of tomorrow. NC East Alliance and the STEM East program have announced that Duke Energy has provided a $500,000 grant for the expansion of this important educational opportunity in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math across eastern North Carolina.
The grant will allow an expansion of a public/private network and prepare students for success as they enter a rapidly evolving workforce, says Mike Hughes, Duke Energy Vice President of community relations.
In a written statement, Chaffee said: “This announcement reflects the value of having STEM East embedded within the NC East Alliance – the importance of connecting employers with educators to the benefit of students. We are ecstatic that Duke Energy has recognized the value of our model and the long-term benefit to the economy of eastern North Carolina. With this funding, STEM East will establish Centers in middle schools across six counties — Carteret, Craven, Greene, Lenoir, Onslow and Wilson. It will help with high schools in five additional counties – Beaufort, Duplin, Jones. Pitt, and Wayne. STEM East will hold open house events and conduct regional training events for educators.
Another presenter, Chris Chang, CEO of Economic Development Partnership, has been with this organization since January of this year, after having spent 17 years in this field. Change provided a broad overview of what his organization does and the various issues that they deal with as they seek out Economic Development opportunities for our state.
Although Change spoke at length, his remarks were low on specifics and high on generalities. However, this organization, and its Board, has plenty of talent and the motivation to succeed. We surely hope they will produce business and job growth in North Carolina.
NC East Alliance is an important element in our region and STEM East is a critically important segment of our children’s future, preparing them for the jobs of tomorrow.