Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Community close-up: Game on in Moore County


Moore County scored big with the United States Golf Association’s second headquarters. It’s leveraging that move to attract development, businesses and people countywide.

Liberty Corner is an unincorporated community in north-central New Jersey’s Somerset County, 45 minutes west of New York City via Interstate 78. It’s home to Bernards Township’s oldest elementary school, which was built in 1904, and a historic district that was added to the National Register in 1991. It also is home to the United States Golf Association, its museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History.

USGA’s museum is a dressed up two-story brick building with four tall white columns, dormers and a manicured lawn. Opened in 1935, it preserves the game’s past and includes a Hall of Champions with rooms dedicated to Palmer, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan. The nine-hole putting course out back is modeled after St. Andrews Links in Scotland, birthplace of the game it honors.

Pinehurst No. 2, designed by Donald Ross, has hosted several tournaments including the U.S. Open in 2014. Its Walk of Fame features statues of famous golfers such as Arnold Palmer and Payne Stewart.

With that dedication to golf heritage, it only made sense that in September, USGA announced it will build a second headquarters in Pinehurst, the southern Moore County village where there are 40 golf courses within a 15-mile radius and its convention and visitors bureau self-identifies as Home of American Golf. “It’s a positioning statement, meaning that the USGA said we’re coming to your community to be a key institution in your community, and we’re there for the duration,” says Pat Corso, executive director of Pinehurst-based economic development group Moore County Partners in Progress.

“In terms of impact, that means it enhances and ensures the sustainability of the community; it creates established stability. So, anyone thinking of coming here as a business to relocate, there’s an anchor that’s not going away. And there are parts — the residential and the business. We are not an expensive place to live; the state income tax is low, and you have the climate. It all makes a pretty clean statement.”

USGA’s second headquarters — Golf House Pinehurst — is the result of a big-money deal that includes $18 million in performance-based incentives, a $100,000 Job Development Investment Grant, $3.5 million from the One North Carolina Fund and $14.4 million over four fiscal years from the General Assembly. Pending Pinehurst’s formal
paperwork approval, USGA will construct a research and test center, museum, visitors center and offices for its foundation and Green Section, which researches and develops management practices that improve playing conditions. Work is expected to be complete in 2023.

The local benefits of welcoming Golf House Pinehurst are numerous. While it’s an attraction in itself, it’s expected to bring businesses and move people to Moore County, too. “There’s a saying that golf was born in St. Andrews and lives in Pinehurst, and this reiterates that,” says Charles Hayes, managing partner of Sanford-based Hayes Group Consulting and a senior fellow at East Carolina University’s Economic Development Academy. He also served as president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership for 20 years. “If you play golf or are interested in golf as an industry, Pinehurst is where you want to be. The headquarters can do very well here because we have the workforce and amenities people look for. They’ll do very well in the Pinehurst-Southern Pines area.”

USGA’s move is like a well-placed drive. “One of their key motivations was to try to put more of their organizational assets in a golf-centric community with a great, extended heritage and a place that owns a unique position in golf,” Corso says. “They call us the Home of American Golf, so it’s a strategic approach.”

The tacit link to St. Andrews is gratifying to people with an affection for playing the game in a revered atmosphere. “I was in awe when I visited St. Andrews and the Old Course for the first time,” says Pinehurst Resort President Tom Pashley. “Even though it was my first visit, it felt like I’d been there before, having watched the Open Championship played there so many times. The combination of the Old Course, the Open Championship and the Royal & Ancient [Golf Club] is incredibly powerful. The USGA having a physical presence in Pinehurst and hosting the U.S. Open Championship on Pinehurst No. 2 every five to six years places us alongside St. Andrews. Any similarity to St. Andrews is a high honor, and I’m incredibly excited that some may begin to think of Pinehurst in that same vein.”

The USGA will return its U.S. Open to Pinehurst Resort in 2024, 2029, 2035, 2041 and 2047. That commitment goes beyond competition days. It attracts golf-related business and develops the next round of players year-round. “One of the things I love most about the U.S. Open is that it brings a new generation of golfers to Pinehurst,” Pashley says. “We enjoy saying that every great player to play golf in the United States has played Pinehurst No. 2. Hosting the U.S. Open … allows Pinehurst to stay relevant with each new generation of golfers.”

Norcross, Ga.-based U.S. Kids Golf manufactures lightweight clubs and accessories for the game’s youngest players. It purchased Longleaf Golf & Family Club in Southern Pines in 2015 and announced last summer that its foundation’s offices were headed to Pinehurst. “We aren’t just a retirement community,” Corso says. “We have a lot of children. But if you go to the commercial side, the USGA says it will introduce us to every company that comes to their testing center. So, that’s a big deal that will bring golf industry suppliers to Moore County and the region.”

Ireland-based Eaton subsidiary Golf Pride completed its 36,000-square-foot headquarters near Pinehurst No. 8 in 2019. It houses corporate offices, a consumer interactive wing and a rapid prototype laboratory. “In my mind, Pinehurst and the surrounding area is a great place for design development operations, because the world of golf has a way of flowing through Pinehurst on a regular basis that is quite unique in the world,” says Golf Pride President Jamie Ledford. “We set up our Golf Pride Global Innovation Center here for that very reason. We do all of our design and development work here on new products before we transfer it to our factories for production. Whether it is concept development, visual design, rapid prototyping or consumer-use testing, we do it all here in Pinehurst. And we have a steady stream of golfers to involve in our product testing.”

source: 2021 North Carolina Economic Development Guide

Ledford believes other brands inside and connected to the golf industry would benefit from having design and development operations in southern Moore County. “I can’t think of very many places in the world where you have access to such a diverse population of golfers from all over the world,” he says. “That population can contribute to new ideas and also help you validate new ideas quickly. Whether it is equipment brands, golf accessory brands, apparel brands, golf electronics brands or really any golf product category, I think this is a really unique place for a golf brand. It is easier to recruit top talent because of the connection to golf and the great lifestyle here. It also is easier to stay in touch with all sorts of golfers from around the world traveling to Pinehurst to play.”

Pinehurst Resort’s Pashley says the commercial side, especially Golf House Pinehurst, will encourage tourism. “This is a partnership that will require significant collaboration,” he says. “I’m excited to think of the possibility to create experiences for visitors at the test center and museum. The USGA has one of the largest collections of golf artifacts in the world. We hope to be able to bring many of them to Pinehurst and rotate them on a regular basis, so there is always something new for visitors to see.”

USGA’s Green Section has funded $40 million of research at universities since 1920. It also provides on-site course-consulting services, an education and outreach program that uses multimedia platforms to solve environmental problems and teach course management and economics, and championship agronomy — growing healthy grass on courses.

If future plans call for an USGA commitment to local land-use projects and other agronomic work, several colleges are ready to help, Corso says. “There is interest in finding turf and sod-research opportunities with N.C. State [University] that would bring N.C. A&T [State University] and Sandhills Community College to the table,” he says. “Those three would be key players. Turf management is their key focus, and they would be based here. They do golf courses but other professional sports as well, like Arrowhead Stadium [home to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in Missouri]. The farmers would grow grass for us to play on, and we can create educated agronomists for golf and other things as well.”

“We would be thrilled to be a part of it,” says Sandhills Community College president John Dempsey, who adds he would welcome a potential group effort, should the USGA seek local collaboration. “I would love to work with N.C. State and help in acquiring the land that they need. The two engineering schools would do the research, and we could assist. It would be a big economic asset to Sandhills to be affiliated with them.”

Sandhills Community College is prepared. It offers a LSG — Turf Grass Management associate-degree program. Its students study plant identification, pest management, plant and soil science, irrigation, fertility and grounds management. Dale Haney, current superintendent of grounds at the White House, is a Sandhills graduate. “Our students have internships at the great golf courses in the U.S. and one even went to St. Andrews,” Dempsey says. “We would be excited, should the USGA want us to be part of it.”

Carthage, about a dozen miles north of Pinehurst, is Moore County’s seat. Its golf course at Little River Resort on U.S. 15-501 closed in early 2019 after a pump station failure caused a reported $1 million in damage to its greens. In town, the two-story brick Tyson & Jones Buggy Factory, a busy manufacturer in the late 1800s before automobiles rolled in, is boarded shut. It serves as the backdrop for the town’s annual Buggy Festival, which draws about 20,000 people.

Corso and others believe the “Buggy Building” has a future as coworking space. “We were able to get a [U.S. Economic Development Administration] grant to determine the feasibility, with the outcome focused on creating an entrepreneurship hub,” he says. “And the reason we got the grant was to propose a way to address the issues of the northern part of the county and draw talent from the southern end to come to Carthage and get all the services they need. … And if it works that we can create that entrepreneurship hub, we’ll go after a second EDA grant [in December] for construction, and go eight months from there, then we’ll know.”

Corso describes a hub-and-spokes approach — with southern Moore County as the center and spokes reaching out to Carthage, UNC Pembroke in Robeson County, Sandhills Community College and others. “If we resource the regions anchored by a micropolitan hub that would energize development in a multicounty region,” he says.

Carthage has held two public hearings, the most recent in November, to discuss the Buggy Building. It is applying for a $760,000 Community Development Block Grant for what town Planning Director Kathy Liles calls “a historically compatible restoration.” It would reopen the building to help businesses and individuals that were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Liles says the state has $26 million available for CDBGs, with a maximum award of $900,000 per application. “Most [applicants] are going with utility assistance and rental issues, but one of the components is economic recovery and job recovery,” she says. “And the Buggy Building looked like a place for a hub for coworking space or start-up space. We’re trying to help people who have had business reductions. Plus, it’s in the county seat and one block off the courthouse square.”

Carthage recently hired a contractor to assess the Buggy Building’s condition. “It’s not in good shape, but it does have good bones,” says town Development Administrator Dorothy Dutton. “An entrepreneurship hub would be awesome, maybe with administrative offices. The Buggy Building is part of our heritage, so any life that comes back to it would be fantastic. We definitely need businesses in Carthage, and I know the town manager and planner would also like to see small boutique businesses that are destination shops.”

While shopping may still be on the drawing table, Carthage is laying the groundwork for development in other ways. “Projects have been approved for townhomes, single-family homes and some senior housing,” Liles says. “We’re allocating for water and sewer, and we have developers committed to make them go.”

Village of Pinehurst is home to restaurants, boutiques, specialty shops, inns and more.

One potential suitor is Richard Hilliard of Southern Pines. An emergency room physician and former Green Beret with 33 years of Army service, he and his company — Raptor Medical — are purchasing the Gilliam-McConnell Airfield in Carthage. “Katherine [Liles] was thinking we could have an office in [the Buggy Building],” he says.

Hilliard’s business employs and trains veterans to handle aircraft maintenance, flight training, construction and geographic information systems. “We’ve done a lot of high-end GIS work with the military, and that could be one of our training pipelines,” he says. “We absolutely would consider an office, because one of the things we want to do with the veterans is, for those who don’t know how to run a business, have a couple of offices there and let them have the GIS portion in there.”

Plans for the airfield include campsites, an outdoor amphitheater and 13 houses, where owners can taxi their plane to their home hangar. “Raptor is an up-and-coming company for vets,” Hilliard says. “It’s going to manage the airfield, and we will have a veterans nonprofit 501-(c)3, and it will have several lines — how to fly, how to work on airplanes, construction. We’re in the process of finishing one large hangar, and we’re using the veterans, and Raptor manages the construction.”

Working at Hilliard’s business helps veterans transition to civilian life, including sharpening job skills and meeting personal needs. “A lot of veterans are special ops guys, and they’ve been at [Fort] Bragg forever, and it’s very stressful not knowing the unknown,” he says. “So, what we plan on doing out there at the airfield is a very calming environment, where you can see plans come together and tinker around with things and be around people who have had the same experience.”

Carthage’s Liles says economic development — personal, private or public — requires partnerships. “People are restoring buildings on the courthouse square,” she says. “We need to bring resources together that can share and support each other. When businesses don’t talk to each other, you miss so much. You miss those connections. Let’s bring our resources together.”

There should be plenty of people to help. Moore County’s population is expected to swell to more than 127,000 from almost 103,000 in the next 15 years, according to N.C. Office of State Budget and Management. “Moore is such a huge county, and the northern area, with the pottery and outdoor activities, is a different kind of attraction to people,” Hayes says. “And in the rural areas, you don’t have the medical facilities or the tourism. It’s a different kind of attraction, so how do you expand on that? I think Moore County is well-situated culturally and talent-wise to do not only golf and golf-related business but also agriculture, medical-related jobs and work with our military. And, growth in light manufacturing. Whether it’s sustainable or not, only time will tell.”

Southern Pines has its “sites” set on life sciences

The renderings show four buildings, each in a colored square and adorned with details such as parking, sidewalks and landscaping. The bottom quadrants on the Morganton Road end are labeled Pinehurst Medical Clinic and Pinehurst Surgical Clinic. The others are marked Site 3B and Site 4B. Phase 1 construction is projected to end in October, and all the sites at Health & Life Sciences Campus at Morganton Park North in Southern Pines are expected to be filled by fall 2022.

Pinehurst Surgical Clinic staff at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Morganton Park North site.

Developers have their sights set on life-sciences companies, medical-training centers and, possibly, a connection to Moore County’s favorite game — golf — for sites 3B and 4B. “We knew that health care expansion needed to happen, and because there was limited space in Pinehurst, we needed to look at a site to expand for the future of the whole Pinehurst-Southern Pines-Aberdeen area,” says Charles Gregg, CEO of Pinehurst Surgical Clinic, which has offices in Moore, Hoke, Scotland, Lee, Richmond and Montgomery counties. “It’ll be a comprehensive medical campus for all outpatient medical services. That’s our long-term goal.”

Gregg labels the two yet to be claimed sites a blank canvas. “We’re not married to one plan; we’re married to doing what the market needs and what it will need five years from now,” he says. Life-sciences companies are one possibility. Historically connected to Research Triangle Park, the industry is on the move as are people. “People are moving away from dense populations, whether they’re metropolitan areas or just downtowns, and going to smaller towns,” he says. “We don’t intend to take anything away from them — the RTP is the RTP. But there are companies that realize they don’t need 50,000 square feet anymore. And Southern Pines is ideal for a company in life sciences that would like a small-town kind of place.”

Several variables are playing to the life-sciences plan. “Migration of companies from larger markets has been going on for some time, and it’s been accelerated to some degree by COVID,” says Charles Hayes, managing partner of Sanford-based Hayes Group Consulting and senior fellow at East Carolina University’s Economic Development Academy. He also served as president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership for 20 years. “Whether it’s sustainable or not, only time will tell,” he says. “That’s why [the] Raleigh-Durham [region] has grown so much. There aren’t so many Fortune 500 companies, but there are smaller companies. I think there’s some demand [for smaller locations], but there’s also something to say for collaboration and the intersection of innovation and different cultures.”

Hayes says Sanford, for example, has seen several multimillion-dollar investments in life sciences within the past year. “There are a lot of regions trying to do that,” he says. “The whole thing is talent and innovation, and [the] Pinehurst-Southern Pines [region] is suited for that. But they aren’t the only ones out there.”

The two sites could host collaborations among FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, North Carolina Biotechnology Center and North Carolina Military Business Center, says Pat Corso, executive director of Pinehurst-based economic developer Moore County Partners in Progress. “This is part of the overall strategy and focus for Partners in Progress, to leverage the robust and clinical trials program they’re doing at FirstHealth, and that can lead to small pharma, medical-equipment companies and other life-sciences companies that are in the Triangle who can look at why they might want to come here.”

FirstHealth’s network serves 15 counties, has nearly 5,000 employees and operates specialty locations in Pinehurst and Southern Pines. It’s participating in the Mayo Clinic’s convalescent plasma expanded access program, which is providing plasma-transfusion treatment for patients with COVID-19 symptoms that are severe or life-threatening. FirstHealth collects the plasma from participants who have recovered from the virus, according to a news release, while the Mayo Clinic handles regulatory compliance. Other research underway at FirstHealth focuses on cancer and vascular medicine. Trials for spinal fusion devices and molecular analysis of pathology specimens will launch soon.

Pinehurst Surgical recently purchased a ROSA Knee System, using it to totally replace a joint for the first time in November. It’s made by Warsaw, Ind.-based Zimmer Biomet, which staffs offices worldwide and designs, manufactures and markets robotic technology that supports orthopedics. While it hasn’t committed to the Southern Pines campus, the company reportedly mentioned exploring the possibility of putting a training center there. Doctors would welcome it. “[Zimmer has] shopped this robot all over the Southeast,” Gregg says. “And they would be the ideal candidate to have a facility here for training, similar to Intuitive Surgical’s training center near Atlanta for its da Vinci robot.”

John Moore is an orthopedic surgery specialist who has practiced with Pinehurst Surgical Clinic since 2001 and has surgical privileges at several FirstHealth hospitals. He performed the first local ROSA surgery.

“Moore County has a very high-volume joint-replacement program that’s been around a number of years,” he says. “And I think this is just the next step in providing a more specialized program for our region. We do have some Titleist trainers in our area who our golfers see for physical therapy, and I could see our [physical-therapy] department having a ‘Return to Golf’ program. We don’t have that now, but [it] could work for all the orthopedic procedures we do.”

Gregg sees a golf connection, too. “We’re reaching out to TaylorMade as well, and those companies that have performance labs, for ways we can have a state-of-the-art performance and physical-therapy place here and partner with a [golf-equipment] manufacturer,” he says. “We are in the cradle of golf, so we see our PT group partnering with a golf manufacturer to help take those people’s game to the next level.”

Hayes visited TaylorMade’s California headquarters during his time as Moore County’s economic development director. “So, this is not a new thing,” he says. “People may look at RTP as being an overnight success, for instance, but it’s 50 years old. I think TaylorMade and others would be well-suited, especially with FirstHealth and the whole network of medical facilities here. They certainly would be well-served by having a testing facility. It’s all interrelated.”

— Kathy Blake is a writer from eastern North Carolina.

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