Making investments in infrastructure and preparing a workforce for the future are key to reversing recent population declines in northeastern North Carolina.
That’s according to Kingsley Nwala, a business professor at Elizabeth City State University, who spoke at the ECSU’s first regional economic summit on Thursday at the KE White Graduate Center.
About 200 business, community and government leaders attended the one-day summit which included a keynote address by Secretary of State for Commerce Machelle Sanders.
Nwala’s checklist to help broaden the regional economic base included expanding workforce development and broadband internet, improving water and wastewater, and expansion of transportation, including construction of I-87. He said it will take a collaborative effort to attract jobs to the area.
âNo county is self-sufficient,â Nwala said. âThe partnership is very, very important. No one is allocating the funds to do this thing. “
Nwala said regional agencies such as the Albemarle Commission, NCEast Alliance and Northeastern Workforce Development Board and higher education institutions have encouraged workforce development. But he said more had to be done.
“They are doing what they can to make this economy grow and that is good news,” Nwala said. “They should be well funded to produce a workforce capable of meeting the demands of today’s economy.”
Strengthening local businesses and manufacturing should be another priority, but Nwala said it would be difficult if broadband was not extended and highways improved.
Tourism promotion must continue, Nwala said.
“It’s important because this region attracts a lot of people,” Nwala said. âPeople are interested in seeing North Carolina. “
Thursday’s summit also included panel discussions on renewable energy, workforce development, economic gardening, minority and women-owned businesses, agriculture and tourism.
County commissioner Sean Lavin said he hopes the summit becomes an annual event.
âThere were some great breakout sessions that really delved into some of the resources available locally,â Lavin said. âIt sparked a lot of good conversations. “
Lavin was particularly impressed with the Economic Gardening Roundtable, which focused on the development and expansion of existing businesses and industry.
âSome of the smaller businesses in our area are key employers and producers,â Lavin said. âIt’s not necessarily just about landing the big fish when it comes to economic development. There are resources to develop the ones you already have.
Lavin sits on the Northeastern Workforce Development Board and said Nwala’s comments on work development were “correct”.
âAnytime you can get people to think about this, it’s a good thing,â he said. âThese types of events provide a platform for discussion with key people. There were people from finance and banking there as well as some who were interested in economic development.
ESCU administrator Paul Tine said the university intends to host the summit again next year. Tine is the chair of the regional development board of directors.
âIt’s about being useful to you (the participants) and finding ways the university can be useful as we advance economic development in the region,â Tine said. âPlease let us know how we can be of assistance. We want to be committed partners in this region who are trying to lead this region to prosperity. “