Saturday, June 15, 2024

Op-Ed: Sites in rural N.C. ready for industry

Scott Hamilton
Scott Hamilton

By Scott T. Hamilton, president and chief executive officer of the Golden LEAF Foundation

In 2021, North Carolina had a record number of new jobs and investment. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the state gained 24,224 new jobs through business and industry and $10.1 billion in new private investment.

Because of industry demand for large ready sites, in 2016 the Golden LEAF Foundation, the N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority and Duke Energy joined together to implement a strategic statewide Major Site Development Initiative. Through the initiative, the Golden LEAF Foundation awarded $25 million to five large industrial sites across the state providing public infrastructure to help win projects over competitive states.

The initiative resulted in five funded megasites:

  • Greensboro-Randolph Megasite in Randolph County
  • Moncure Megasite in Chatham County (now called the Triangle Innovation Point megasite)
  • Washburn Switch Business Park in Cleveland County
  • Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) Site in Chatham County
  • Kingsboro CSX Select Megasite in Edgecombe County

These early investments have supported the recent announcements of VinFast’s electric vehicle and battery manufacturing operations at Triangle Innovation Point megasite which will create 7,500 new jobs and Toyota’s battery manufacturing operations at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite which will create 1,750 new jobs. Additionally, in December 2016, Clearwater Paper announced it would create 175 new jobs at the Washburn Switch Business Park.

While the megasites are landing thousands of jobs, smaller sites in rural and economically distressed counties can make a huge impact on their communities.

During Golden LEAF’s strategic planning process, the Golden LEAF Board identified gaps in available funding to support site development necessary to attract businesses, especially to rural and economically distressed areas. In response to these findings, the Board created the SITE Program.

The Golden LEAF SITE Program supports communities in identifying potential sites for economic development and provides funds to enable completion of due diligence on sites already identified or to extend public utilities to or conduct rough grading and clearing of sites for which due diligence has been completed.

The Golden LEAF Board budgeted $10 million for the new SITE Program to be awarded in two rounds of funding in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

At our December 2021 Board meeting, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $4.9 million for 11 projects through the first round of the Golden LEAF SITE Program. The funding supports sites in Macon, Montgomery, Halifax, Nash, Alexander, Yancey, Cumberland, Duplin, Franklin, McDowell, and Rockingham counties

At the June 2022 Board meeting, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $5.05 million for 13 projects in the three phases of the SITE Program: Identification, Due Diligence, and Development. The funding supports sites in Moore, Martin, Wilkes, Surry, Robeson, Stokes, Cumberland, Duplin, Onslow, Nash, Person, Rutherford, and Columbus counties.

Stokes and Wilkes counties and the Town of Robbins were selected to receive assistance in the SITE Program – Identification phase, which provides the services of a professional site development consultant, at no cost to the community, to help the community identify potential industrial sites to market.

The Golden LEAF Board awarded $104,650 in funding to support three SITE Program – Due Diligence projects in Martin, Surry and Robeson counties. These projects will receive funding to complete eligible due diligence activities such as environmental assessments, archaeological analyses, and mapping.

For the SITE Program – Development, the Golden LEAF Board awarded $4,896,876 in funding for seven projects that will provide public infrastructure and, for publicly owned sites, clearing and rough grading, to benefit sites that have completed the due diligence necessary to demonstrate that the site is suitable for development. Organizations in Cumberland, Duplin, Onslow, Nash, Person, and Rutherford county and Tabor City received site development support.

Ready sites are no longer a luxury but a necessity to attract industries to areas. Through the SITE Program, Golden LEAF has awarded $10 million to help ready 23 sites in North Carolina for economic growth opportunities.

State officials established the Golden LEAF Foundation in 1999 to administer a portion of the tobacco settlement agreement monies back into North Carolina’s rural and economically distressed communities. It has awarded more than $1 billion in grants since its inception and has more than $1.3 billion in assets.

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