Writer: Eleana Teran
2 min read September 2023 — As North Carolina continues to thrive, leaders across the state and the Triangle are tapping into new opportunities and tackling pressing challenges. Invest: spoke with Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina and Bill King, president and CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, about their organizations’ crucial roles in shaping the future of business at a state and local level.
Chung discussed the areas of focus for the state, including electric vehicle manufacturing and clean energy, sectors with promising job growth. King, on the other hand, highlighted efforts to bring life back to downtown Raleigh through events and business strategies that cater to the post-pandemic world. Both leaders emphasized the importance of flexible strategies and dedicated efforts to ensure a strong and thriving North Carolina.
What are the key factors that make the region an attractive destination for businesses looking to relocate or expand?
Chrtistopher Chung, CEO, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina: “One of our responsibilities is to attract companies that are seeking future growth to invest in North Carolina, thereby creating job opportunities within the state. We focus on several sectors, including electric vehicle-related manufacturing and the entire value chain associated with it – from batteries to battery components, even encompassing raw materials and critical minerals used in these components. This segment is experiencing rapid growth, aligns perfectly with North Carolina’s strengths and, most importantly, generates high-quality employment opportunities. By successfully attracting more investment in this sector, we can create more jobs for our residents.
In addition to electric vehicles, we actively pursue industries such as aerospace, semiconductors, life sciences, as well as food and beverage-related products. The goal is to convince companies experiencing growth to establish their operations in North Carolina.
Regarding clean energy, it represents one of our priority target industries, among a half dozen others. Clean energy encompasses a wide range of activities, from solar panel production to offshore wind development and even expanding into emerging areas like hydrogen fuel cell technology. These industries address the challenges posed by climate change through sustainable energy production. We aspire not only to be a hub for clean energy production but also to manufacture the components involved in generating this power. These opportunities offer tremendous potential for North Carolina.”
Bill King, President & CEO, Downtown Raleigh Alliance: “We’re working on near and long term objectives to get more people downtown and generate more long term economic development outcomes. We launched a new concert series called ‘Live after 5’ which is a throwback to a 1990s series we used to do and most recently featured the Spin Doctors. We host these events on Wednesdays so it’s a great way to drive more activity to Fayetteville Street during the week. It’s a good example of strategic intervention to bring that activity to a part of downtown that would otherwise be during a quiet, slow time. The unveiling of our Illuminate art walk was a huge draw, bringing in thousands of visitors, many from outside a ten mile radius of the city. Pairing that with events like our First Friday has been a vital strategy to get people back downtown after the pandemic.
On the economic development side, the Social District has been a big accomplishment over the past year and is to date the largest city in the state with this model. We did a survey of businesses and found it has added sales and gets 90% support from downtown business owners and the general public. Business recruitment has been a key initiative and had 40-plus new storefronts open in the past year and we anticipate more along the way.”
What are some of the key challenges faced by businesses in North Carolina?
Chung: “The workforce is a challenge we consistently hear about from businesses of all kinds. While we haven’t delved into it much, another one of our key responsibilities is promoting North Carolina as a tourism destination for leisure travelers. When people travel, they typically stay in hotels, maybe an Airbnb, or dine at restaurants. They also visit various tourism attractions. However, even these sectors face difficulties in attracting and retaining a workforce. Whether we’re discussing manufacturing, healthcare, technology or leisure and hospitality, the workforce remains a challenge throughout the country and North Carolina is not exempt from this reality.
Steps like talent pipeline initiatives, apprenticeships, community college training and K through 12 instruction are all part of a comprehensive effort to ensure a larger pool of skilled, trainable and educated workers available to various industries and companies. If we can successfully achieve this as a state, it will create a positive impact on our economic development and overall growth.”
King: “The biggest challenge has been office utilization. I distinguish that from office occupancy which means how much space is leased. It’s a challenging number to nail down because it changes every day but one we are monitoring carefully. But generally, we’re happy that visitation overall is close to 90% to pre-pandemic levels. Lower office utilization in the central and eastern sections are significant challenges because it inevitably reduces foot traffic downtown. There are also the macro level concerns with inflation and rising costs, especially for labor and talent recruitment. We are also trying to bring more lunch and fitness options to entice office workers back.”
What are your key goals and priorities for driving economic development in North Carolina?
Chung: “Addressing product availability in real estate for attracting industrial companies to North Carolina is a priority. We’ve experienced success in attracting companies related to electric vehicles, aerospace, biopharmaceuticals and semiconductors. This has resulted in significant consumption of our limited inventory of industrial sites and buildings that can accommodate these companies. If we don’t replenish this inventory, it will limit options for other companies interested in North Carolina, reducing our chances of attracting them.
To overcome this challenge, the state legislature and the governor have entrusted us with proactively identifying and developing industrial sites that can accommodate large advanced manufacturing facilities within a specific time frame. This ensures our competitiveness and attractiveness for companies considering North Carolina for their business operations.
North Carolina’s reputation as the No. 1 state for the best business climate and promising workforce numbers make it an appealing destination for companies. However, to set up their operations, companies require specific locations, making real estate considerations crucial. Without appropriate real estate options, it becomes a vulnerability for us. Therefore, we are dedicated to securing state funding to identify and designate a new slate of high-quality industrial sites that can meet various companies’ needs. This proactive approach is vital to maintaining our competitive edge and attractiveness to businesses seeking a strategic location in North Carolina.”
What is the long term strategy for downtown Raleigh?
King: “Long term, we’ve recently announced an economic development strategy which has four components. The first is focused on vacancies and storefronts on Fayetteville Street to make that area vibrant again. Second, we are looking at office because hybrid work is a reality so we want to build a downtown around that and market it effectively. We also want to diversify our office spaces with more emphasis on getting life sciences into downtown. Third, we are seeking to support minority and women owned businesses so they are well represented in Raleigh and we create a diverse and inclusive place for all businesses. We also want to connect employers with historically black universities. Finally, we want to bring in more catalytic projects that can be the next big idea for Downtown Raleigh.”
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