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Partnerships are important to economic development. That was the message from Chris Lloyd Sr., the Vice-President of Infrastructure and Economic Development, McGuire Woods Consulting, to the Bladen County Committee of 100 on Wednesday night.

Lloyd said despite what is being written by such entities as the New York Times about the death of rural America, economic development in rural America is doing well.

“You all have a lot to be proud of,” said Lloyd as he addressed the membership.

He noted that many communities throughout the United States think they are the best location for a company to develop their business interests. Lloyd said one trend he has seen in Economic Development over the years is the fact there are not as many large projects left. He said in the past year North Carolina has had 139 projects statewide; South Carolina has had 132 projects statewide; Virginia has had 191 projects statewide; Georgia has claimed to have had 365 projects statewide; Ohio has had 284 projects statewide and Tennessee has had 160 projects statewide.

Lloyd discussed some ways communities can be more successful in  attracting projects. He said one way to do this is to determine what your community’s strengths are and focus on attracting projects centered around those strengths. Lloyd said one trend has been the increase of capital investment but a decrease in the number of jobs created by that investment. He added the jobs which are being created, while fewer in number, are higher paying jobs.

Lloyd gave the example of a project he is involved with at International Paper Company in Riegelwood. He explained the future of production at the plant is fluff paper. The company is spending $170 million but it will employ 50 fewer people, according to Lloyd.

He said companies are no longer seeking financial incentives but are instead seeking locations with a well educated workforce, a good quality of life, and a good location from which they can best reach their client base. Lloyd said companies today are seeking solutions for their logistics issues.

Lloyd also said communities need to be willing to not only discuss their successes but to also be willing to discuss their short-comings and what is being done to remedy them. He said forming partnerships with the various stakeholders within the community is very important for economic development. Lloyd said groups like the Committee of 100 are very important to economic development.

Lloyd said labor is the number one issue for companies when they are seeking a location to develop business interests. He said communities need to be able to demonstrate they have the labor force that is ready to go or the labor force that is ready to be trained and the training programs necessary to develop them.

Also, Chuck Heustess discussed some the past year’s economic development success stories in Bladen County. Some of those include the 2009 expansion of a speculative building in the Bladenboro Industrial Park which is now occupied by MHM Marine; the Committee of 100 contributed $10,000 to provide incentives to bring Black’s Tire/Carolina Retread to Clarkton.

Heustess said, this year, one success story has been the Blast Cooler and Cold Storage Expansion at Smithfield Foods in Tar Heel. He said the investment is a $45 million project and created 30 new jobs.

He said Gildan in Clarkton has also been a “star.” Heustess said during Hurricane Matthew Gildan called and sent thousands of socks and underwear and other items to be distributed throughout the region.

Heustess said the Committee of 100 has assisted with the development of a small business incubator in the location of the former Post Office building in Elizabethtown. He said following Hurricane Matthew and the discovery and removal of asbestos in the building, the bid opening was held recently. Heustess said the bid openings revealed the project to cost $396,000 but he is hopeful the project will move forward.