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Leaders encouraged to work together to grow rural Southeastern North Carolina

By Charlotte Smith

The 51st Annual Southeastern Economic Development Commission (SEDC) meeting was held Thursday, May 30th at Cape Fear Vineyard & Winery in Elizabethtown. The SEDC works to create new jobs, retain existing jobs and stimulate economic and industrial growth, according to their motto.

Many leaders from all over Southeastern North Carolina were in attendance. Bladen County Commissioner Arthur Bullock, Manager, Greg Martin, Economic Development Director, Chuck Heustess, White Lake Mayor, Goldston Womble, Bladen Community College President, Dr. Amanda Lee, and Town of Elizabethtown Manager Eddie Madden were all in attendance. Mr. Kenny Flowers, Assistant Secretary of Rural Development from the North Carolina Department of Commerce was the Keynote Speaker.

The SEDC is headquartered in Elizabethtown and was established in 1968, serving 12 counties in Southeastern North Carolina. Pamela Bostic serves as the Executive Director. The SEDC is designated as an Economic Development District (EDD) by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA), as authorized under Title IV of the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965, to foster and promote economic growth in southeastern North Carolina.

From 1968 through 2019 the commission assisted its members receive over 93 million dollars in funding for 171 projects, which doesn’t reflect other federal, state, or local matching funds provided for the projects. According to the meeting report; from 2018 through 2019 the commission awarded grant funding for over 1.2 million dollars for projects in their catchment area. However, $300,000 of the 1.2 million in funding from the last fiscal year is for SEDC and Cape Fear Council Of Government disaster recovery coordination from Hurricane Florence, according to the report.

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The SEDC report stated, “Through the initial EDA/SEDC Disaster Recovery investment of $250k, the SEDC Disaster Recovery Coordinators have assisted communities in obtaining funds to address priorities in Housing, Economic Development, Infrastructure for the total of $13.4 million in the SEDC Region.”

The disaster funding was distributed as follows:

Bladenboro- $500k – NC Office of Recovery & Resiliency grant for support of operating costs associated with disaster recovery

Dublin – $141k – NC Division of Water Infrastructure State Revolving Fund Grant/Loan supplemental award for a sewer improvement project

Elizabethtown – $2.5 million – NC Office of Recovery & Resiliency grant $500k/loan($2Million) Combo for operating costs and cash flow for a disaster recovery project.

Raeford – $750k – CDBG Neighborhood Revitalization grant for housing improvements.

Red Springs – $7.1 million in total, $2.4 million loan, 4.7 million grant from USDA Rural Development for Water Treatment Plant improvements

Red Springs – 1.98 million CDBG – Infrastructure Grant for sewer improvements

Red Springs – $150k for Golden Leaf Foundation Grant for repairs at the Wastewater Treatment Plant and backup power for water supply wells.

Red Springs – $150k for Assets Inventory and Assessment grant from NC Division of Water Infrastructure

The counties in the SEDC district are Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, New Hanover, Pender, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson, and Scotland.

Mr. Flowers said, “We need to build strong communities. Economic Development is the ultimate team game.”

Six items for the 12 counties to focus on for growth, Mr. Flowers pointed out, were broadband, housing, workforce development, local government capacity, and general readiness for economic development.

“We can’t do it alone,” Mr. Flowers said, “we have to leverage our resources.”

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, one Brunswick County leader spoke about Walmart and Amazon taking over and the dying downtown areas. He asked Mr. Flowers about a rail system. The county commissioner explained his understanding of the lack of profits from a rail system, but it shouldn’t deter the state from building one. He said the lack of profit  would be out weighted by the benefits it would bring to all the counties.

“People could go to work in one county and be back home before dark in another county if we had a rail system,” he said. It would also boost tourism according to his opinion.

SEDC Chairman Mr. Randall Johnson announced the SEDC will have a roundtable meeting on August 6 at the Lumber River Council of Government office.

Before the meeting was adjourned the SEDC held the election for their board. Amy Cannon from Cumberland County will be the incoming Chairman, Chuck Heustess from Bladen County will be the Vice Chair, Mark Ward will be the Secretary/Treasurer.

Photos by Kenneth Armstrong

 

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