On the same day that construction started on the new $500 million Mercedes-Benz plant near Charleston, S.C., more than 100 Triad-area officials gathered in Greensboro to hear encouraging words about North Carolina’s efforts to attract the next major manufacturing expansion in the South.
Perhaps the most encouraging comments at the event, sponsored by Raleigh-based strategic-communications agency Eckel & Vaughan and Business North Carolina, came from Paul Cozza, executive director of the N.C. State Ports Authority. He noted that there’s growing support from business and political leaders for major investments at the Wilmington and Morehead City ports. More resources are required to better compete with peers in South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, each of which have invested more than North Carolina in recent decades, he said. “We let our ports slide,” Cozza said, noting that 25 years ago, North Carolina’s ports did more business than the Savannah, Ga. port, which has exploded in size and now serves as a key shipping point for cars made at southern auto plants. Now, he added, one of the N.C. ports’ key sales points is the lack of congestion compared with Charleston and Savannah facilities. He said North Carolina has a great opportunity to attract business “from a huge, underserved market.”
Randolph County Commission Chairman Darrell Frye and former Greensboro Mayor Jim Melvin also discussed the 1,500-acre “megasite” that is being marketed to potential employers. The property includes about 76 parcels assembled from property owners in Randolph County, while relying on financial support from state and local governments and private foundations.
Cozza also emphasized the “transformational” potential of railroad giant CSX Corp.’s proposed intermodal hub planned for Edgecombe County. “It will be a huge catalyst,” he said, possibly as valuable for eastern North Carolina as the American Airlines hub in Charlotte.
Stephanie Cohen, vice president of strategic planning for FedEx Ground, noted the Memphis, Tenn.-based company continues to expand in North Carolina, where it operates 14 offices and distribution hubs. Its facilities include a 580,000-square-foot hub in Kernersville that employs 950 people, plus another 700 during peak shipping seasons.
Melvin closed the event with a call for greater regional cooperation, a theme he has promoted for decades. His current post as head of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation puts him in the center of the project’s development.