FAIRMONT — State Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker on Tuesday pledged her support and the support of her department in assisting Fairmont and other rural communities in their efforts to recruit businesses that can create jobs for their residents.
”You are doing the right things,” Decker said during a meeting Tuesday with Mayor Charles Kemp and members of the Fairmont Job Opportunities and Business Growth Support Team. “You know that economic development is not a sprint. It’s long term. It’s a marathon.”
Kemp and members of his economic development team presented the secretary with information about their community, touting qualities that make it good a location for businesses, including available property and existing infrastructure, proximity to interstates and the port in Wilmington, and availability of a dependable and trained workforce. The history of the community, access to university and community colleges, and the quality of life available were also community assets assets that were emphasized.
“What we need from you is increased exposure,” Kemp told Decker. “We have the land and the buildings. We have an energetic workforce … . We are not willing to roll over with the country’s poor economic times — not yet. We are prepared to meet the challenges. All we are asking for is a little boost from those who can offer it.”
Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer, told the secretary that Fairmont is indeed a community that has the necessary elements in place to be a good location for businesses wishing to locate to North Carolina or expand its current operations.
“All they need is the opportunity,” he said.
Asked by the secretary where the state could be most helpful in its support, JOBS team members pointed to the need for access to more capital for those wishing to start up or expand their business; more access to high-speed Internet; and funding for educational programs that can offer more technical training for both students and workers. Ryan Nance, the new executive director at COMtech, suggested that more emphasis be placed on supporting the solar energy industry, which he said has had a positive effect in “softening the blow” of the poor economy in Robeson County.
Bob Moore, of Robeson Community College, noted that RCC is a center of training for advanced manufacturing, having on its campus some of the most technologically advanced labs available.
“This town doesn’t want to be forgotten,” Moore told the secretary “I’m convinced that if enough industries come looking here sooner or later one or two will locate.”
Decker, having been raised in one, said that she understands the needs of rural communities. The state, she said, can assist economic development by setting a policy for investment and support, but it is up to the individual community to “pull this all together.”
Decker said that Fairmont is ahead of many communities in development of a strategic plan for recruiting and supporting businesses.
“You already know your assets, available workforce and core businesses, and have a strategic plan,” she said.
The secretary did not comment during her visit about Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget recommendations to cut funding to the N.C. Rural Center and the Golden LEAF Foundation — both critical funding sources for rural economic development.
Kemp said after the meeting that it was a “great opportunity” to be able to address the secretary about the need for state support for local economic development.
“I felt there was a connection … I felt there was energy there,” Kemp said. “I’m very encouraged. I feel she is on the right track.”