Expanding high-speed fiber networks into ruralareas is a national priority that has lots of upside for North Carolina. Corning, CommScope and other companies make massive amounts of fiber at several
Tar Heel locations.
Now, High Point-based Lumos is accelerating its goal to install fiber for a major network that serves less-dense areas where Spectrum, Comcast, Google and others won’t enter. The company has a goal of passing 1 million homes and businesses by 2026, or nearly four times the current total. It has the backing of Sweden’s largest private-equity group, EQT, which manages more than $220 billion in assets.
Lumos is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in places like Burlington, Lexington, Mebane and Wilmington, working with county governments and state mandates to expand internet service. While mainly focused on North Carolina and Virginia, CEO Brian Stading looks for much of its growth to occur in South Carolina. He’s also mulling expansions in other mid-Atlantic and Southeast states.
The expansion is buoyed by the federal government’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. A key goal is to help rural areas remain competitive as a location for promising companies.
Lumos is the successor of the old High Point Telephone Exchange,
which local businessmen had formed in 1895. It became North State Telephone in 1905 and was led by the Hayden and Tucker families for most of the next century. It primarily served retail and commercial customers around High Point and Thomasville, and parts of Greensboro and Kernersville.
EQT expanded in the telecom sector service by buying Lumos Networks of Waynesboro, Virginia, in 2013 and North State in 2020. It later created the Segra brand, then sold North State’s regional fiber network to Atlanta’s Cox Communications last year.
Stading joined Lumos in August 2022 after nearly three years as chief operating officer of Ziply Fiber in Washington state. He says he was attracted by the chance to launch the Lumos brand and create a new culture. “When you develop a new brand, it takes time,” he says. “The good news is we had a great foundation. We’re not screwing up what was done in the past. We’re a fiber optic builder. We’re not a historical telephone provider.”
His basic pitch is that businesses and consumers should switch from old, somewhat unreliable copper cable-provided internet service to new fiber options. A detailed market study by Lumos asked, “What are the communities that are underserved or unserved? It was really assessing what we think is a reasonable and aggressive undertaking,” he says.
While gobs of money is backing rural broadband, Lumos’ timing may be risky.
In November, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a letter with 25 other
governors urging Congress to reauthorize the Affordable Connectivity Program. The program, administeredby the Federal Communications, provides qualified low-income households $30 per month off the cost of internetservice or $100 off the cost of a router. Without action, the program could run out of funds as early as next April, affecting more than 861,000 North Carolinians.
Lumos has competitors. Indiana-based Metronet expanded its fiber-optic service into Havelock in September, for example. It’s also entering Fayetteville, Greenville and Rocky Mount, among other eastern North Carolina cities.
But Lumos appears to be among the state’s most active broadband investors, having restructured nearly $1.1 billion debt this summer and adding a line of credit to fund expansion.
In September 2022, Lumossaid it would spend $50 million to lay 600 miles of cable in Durham and Orange counties. The same month, it received franchise approvals for 900 miles of cable in Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach in Virginia.
Its biggest announcement came in January, with plans for 1,200 miles of cable in South Carolina’s Richland and Lexington counties at a cost of $100 million. Two months later, it began adding 706 miles of cable in Spartanburg County, and it has received franchise approval to go into the Columbia, South Carolina, market.
Back in North Carolina, the company is spending $56 million in New Hanover County and $50 million in Johnston County, east of Raleigh. In Alamance and Orange counties, Lumos is building infrastructure that will pass nearly 70,000 homes across Burlington, Elon, Gibsonville, and Mebane.
In June, the N.C. Department of Information Technology, a state agency, announced that its challenges to the FCC’s National Broadband Map found an additional 115,000 homes and businesses, primarily in rural areas, without access to high-speed internet. The FCC says there are more than 250,000 locations that are unserved by broadband internet, with download speeds ofless than 25 megabytes per second. About 300,000 sites have speeds ofless than 100 megabytes per second. The basic Lumos service for a home is 500 megabytes per second download and upload speed.
“The reason you want fiber is that you want the best,” says Stading. “Your upload and download feeds are synced. Having that video capability is paramount, and fiber is a lot more stable and more reliable than traditional copper technology.”
For consumers, Lumos charges start at $50 a month and reach $100 for faster speeds. By comparison, Google Fiber starts at $70 a month in the Triangle. That’s a deal that Stading hopes will attract customers to Lumos. “We want to provide a fair price for a fair service and distinguish ourselves on service,” he says. “Our goal is to provide great value.”■
Hugh Gaither started Hickory-based Feetures 22 years ago by selling high-performance socks to runners. The company, which reported $45 million in revenue last year, is now hustling after new customers who enjoy different active pursuits, including golfers, cyclists, hikers and tennis players.
“The running market is a small market in the big world, but Feetures is becoming a better known brand,” says Gaither, 73. He now runs the business with his two sons, John, 45, who took over as CEO in January, and son Joe, 37, the chief marketing officer. Joe came up with the Feetures name when he was a student at Newton-Conover High School.
The company sold more than 5 million pairs of socks last year, with a retail price averaging about $18, and it has doubled its workforce and sales in the past three years. The business has grown every single year, aided by steady growth of retail customers, such as REI, which started selling Feetures in 2021. It has “relentlessly focused” on gaining market share at Dick’s Sporting Goods and other key retailers, and increasing business
in international markets, Joe Gaither adds. The brand sells in 50 countries and about 10,000 stores, including specialty running shops such as Carrboro-based Fleet Feet.
The Gaither family are longtime Catawba County business owners. Hugh Gaither’s great-grandfather, Joseph Albert Gaither, started Ridgeview, a hosiery and sock manufacturing business in Newton, in 1912. Hugh Gaither went to work for Ridgeview in 1975 after earning an MBA from UNC Chapel Hill and completing his service in the U.S. Army. He recalls turning down a job from Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh at twice the Ridgeview salary level to join the family business.
“Ridgeview was a terrific company in many ways, including starting one of the very first on-site day care centers, (and) supporting an innovative way for parents to meet with their children’s teachers for monthly reviews on site without loss of pay,” he says.
When Ridgeview closed in 2000, it had annual sales of around $100 million but struggled to make a profit, says Hugh Gaither. Using debt for two acquisitions, extending its resources and changes at the bank that financed the company combined to force its closure after almost 90 years, says Gaither, who was CEO at the time.
Still, he learned about the sport sock market at Ridgeview, with some of those lessons now evident at Feetures. “I noticed that sport socks hadn’t changed much, and thought we could make a performance sock,” he says. The company is considering launching a line of performance shirts next year.
Direct-to-customer online sales soared during the pandemic, going from about 15% of Feetures sales to 30% in 2020. “Due to the shutdown of gyms and other activities, a lot of people turned to running, walking and hiking as their primary form of exercise,” Joe Gaither says. Many active lifestyle brands flourished during the pandemic, but when the world “returned to normal,” Feetures found its retail business stronger than ever and revenue outpacing projections in all channels, he says.
COVID presented unique challenges, including an eight-week factory shutdown by Feetures’ primary supplier in Vietnam. It could have been devastating, but Feetures had added new U.S. suppliers and was able to partner with other factories in Asia. “All of this allowed us to find capacity” and keep up with customer demands, Joe Gaither says. “We did depend heavily on air freight at the time, which was extremely expensive, but we felt necessary.”
North Carolina factories in High Point and Burlington make about 25% of the company’s socks, with the rest coming from plants in Vietnam, South Korea and Taiwan.
So what distinguishes an $18 Feetures sock and white tube socks besides the splash of colors? Feetures socks “hug the foot,” says Hugh Gaither. Targeted compression keeps the sock in place and prevents friction that can lead to blisters. Feetures socks are anatomically designed, meaning just like shoes there’s a “right” sock and a “left” sock, marked with a “L” and an “R.”
“You don’t want to have to think about your socks, so we sell to active people who don’t want to worry about their socks,” he says.
Rooted in Catawba
The company employs about 55 workers, including 30 in its 40,000-square-foot customer service and distribution center in Hickory. The rest, including the three Gaithers, work at a Charlotte office that opened with four people in 2014. The Queen City group grew as Feetures recruited talent for marketing and planning teams, Many staffers preferred not to commute 50 miles to Hickory. Parents Hugh and wife, Julie, moved to Charlotte in 2016, and work at the Charlotte office. It didn’t hurt that the move put them closer to their grandchildren.
“It was a hard decision for my dad to break up our workforce, but ultimately he came around to the idea as well,” Joe Gaither says.
But Feetures will remain rooted in Catawba County, they say. Next fall, it plans to move into an expanded distribution and customer service center. It will be a 60,000-square-foot building under construction by Hickory-based contractor David E. Looper and designed by Holland and Hamrick Architects of Shelby.
The site has a Newton mailing address, although it’s in the Hickory city limits.
Feetures is leasing the building from Winston-Salem-based Southeastern Industrial Solutions, which is also developing an adjacent 40,000-square-foot spec building.
Pending continued growth, Feetures expects to add 25 workers to its distribution and customer service center in the next five years, Joe Gaither says. The building’s high ceilings give Feetures twice the actual warehouse space, and it will offer technological advantages in filling orders as the company transitions to selling to larger stores and adding more direct sales to customers.
The Gaithers say they recognize each other’s strengths, which has helped achieve positive results at Feetures. “Our differences do sometimes lead to spirited debate which can be challenging, but in the end we respect each other enough to get through it and find compromise and ultimately consensus, which has been critical,” Joe Gaither says. ■
Unless you are a land developer or someone who works in local government, the name WithersRavenel may not resonate. But it is possible you live in a subdivision that was designed by WithersRavenel. Or you live in
a town whose master plan was drafted with its help.
The company’s more than 400 engineers, land planners, environmental specialists and surveyors work all over
Sam Ravenel and Tony Withers earned engineering degrees at N.C. State University in the mid-1970s. They met working in dam safety for the state.
Eventually, they both went to work for private engineering firms. By 1982, Withers went out on his own. He needed help, and reached out to his former colleague, Ravenel.
“I said I can’t do this by myself, and we had a good relationship, so I said let’s just form a partnership.” In 1983, the firm began in Raleigh.
At that time, Cary was transforming from a small western Wake County town to a booming suburb. Research Triangle Park was taking off, and Interstate 40 had been built right by Cary between Raleigh and RTP. Fast-growing startup SAS Institute had arrived from Raleigh. WithersRavenel was getting work from developments that were springing up.
“We knew Cary was on the move,” says Withers, “so we said let’s move our office out here.” They had a draftsman and a secretary and there were four of them in a three-room sublease from a dentist.
In 1990, the partners recruited Jim Canfield, who eventually became CEO and president
of the company. Two of the leading developers in the Triangle were Tim Smith and
From 1990 to 2005, WithersRavenel would grow to 100 employees. One reason was the work it was doing for Preston Development, a company founded by Smith and Rawl and backed financially by SAS co-founder Jim Goodnight.
By 2007, the firm had 280 employees. And then the housing market collapsed in 2008, triggering a financial crisis that ripped through the development industry.
WithersRavenel reduced its staffing to below 100 employees. “It was awful,” says Withers. “Banks were calling notes on everybody. Many, many builders went bankrupt.”
Fortunately, the firm had what he called “a little bit of government work to sustain us. And we had a couple of good developer clients that were not affected as badly. They could afford to pay their bills.”
One reason WithersRavenel had government work was engineer Cameron Patterson, says Canfield. “He was our early champion for public sector work. A lot of what he did in the mid-90s, especially early 2000s, allowed us to have the public sector work we did that got us through the recession.”
WithersRavenel worked with municipalities throughout North Carolina. Engineering firms like WithersRavenel become the go-to resource for a myriad of local projects: land use plans, street construction and repair, water and sewer installations and the like.
Government work has balanced the ups and downs of private development. Today, the firm’s $60 million annual revenues are split 55% private, 45% public.
“We’ve added 200 people in the last three years, during Covid,” says Canfield. A challenge in this hiring is ensuring new employees share the company’s core values. The engineering business is a technical one, but it is also a relationship business because WithersRavenel personnel interact with clients daily. “If our employee experience here is great, they’re going to give our client a great experience,” says Canfield.
WithersRavenel now has offices in Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Pittsboro, Raleigh, Southern Pines and Wilmington.
“At some point in the very near future, we will be outside of North Carolina. We need to in order to continue to grow and scale, but importantly, to give our teammates opportunities to grow with us. We’ve been thinking in 10 years, we’d be a Southeast regional firm.”
The founders are still active in the business, which is now 100% employee-owned
through a stock plan. Withers works on client relationships, and Ravenel works in the stormwater group.
They are different people, says Canfield. “Sam’s very much head down, wanna do the engineering work. Tony’s much more about developing business, developing client relationships, big picture, putting things together. And so the two of them made an awesome team of Tony, he’d bring the work in, and Sam would make sure it got done and got done well.” ■
I first encountered Uma Bhat, our fall intern who profiled one of our Small Business of the Year winners in this issue, on Twitter back in the summer, when she responded to a tweet saying she was interested in talking to people about careers in business journalism.
I replied, and told Bhat that I was back in North Carolina and could meet with her and talk. We met on a Friday afternoon at an ice cream shop in Cary, where she grew up and graduated from Green Hope High School.
By that time, Bhat had already interned for WUNC and was working as an intern for the Triangle Business Journal. And she had attended the Bloomberg 2023 Journalism Diversity Program in New York in May.
What quickly became apparent when we met at the ice cream shop was that she had done her homework as well. She knew all about me and my career in business journalism. She knew the names of my former UNC Chapel Hill students now working in business journalism. She knew the names of my two sons and that one of them worked in business journalism. She had asked people in the industry about me – they told her I was “passionate” and “intense” about business journalism.
It reminded me, frankly, of myself, and what I would have done before meeting someone in the industry. Doing research before you ask questions is often more important than the questions you ask. And I’ve always prided myself on knowing someone before I meet them. Bhat had turned the tables, and I was unprepared for that.
We kept in touch during the summer, and she would occasionally ask for advice on a story she was working on for the Business Journal. When her internship ended, she asked to meet. She wanted to talk about whether she was cut out to be a business reporter.
My response was an emphatic yes. If you’ve followed her byline for us this semester, you’ve seen her write a variety of stories for our website, from retail expansion to a private company raising funds. In the November Issue, she profiled 321 Coffee, which focuses on hiring workers with disabilities.
I’ve typically found the stories she’s written to be “clean,” which means they don’t need much editing. She learned journalism well working for her high school newspaper, and in her classes at UNC Chapel Hill and during her internships. And she asks tons of questions. She’s one of those people who is somewhat annoying by the volume of the questions she asks. But I quickly saw it’s because she wants to learn and she wants to make sure that she gets her stories as complete and accurate as possible. It’s not annoying to me because I understand that she just wants to learn.
A business editor for a large metropolitan newspaper emailed me recently, looking for summer 2024 interns. I’ve sent him students interested in business journalism for internships and jobs in the past. I immediately connected him with Bhat, who’s a junior.
And here’s, to me, what makes her different: She responded immediately, even though it was around 8 p.m. on a weeknight. She followed up with another email after she applied. She also responds immediately to texts and emails I send her. She understands that journalism is all about communicating with people and developing those relationships.
If Uma Bhat personifies the future of journalism, then we are all in great shape. She’s thorough, fair, a strong writer and a great communicator.
Lynn Minges, president of the N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association, joined High Point University President Nido Qubein in the Power List interview, a partnership for discussions with influential leaders. Interview videos are available at www.businessnc.com.
Representing the state’s powerful hospitality industry has been a long-term pursuit for Minges, including 10 years as the president and CEO for the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association. The industry represents more than $27 billion in annual sales and about 11% of the state’s workforce. Prior to her trade association role, Minges was a key part of N.C. Department of Commerce tourism efforts. The native of Bladen County is a graduate of Peace College and N.C. State University.
This story includes excerpts from Minges’ interview and was edited for clarity.
Lynn Minges, welcome. You’re the president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, which has an enormous impact on
our economy. It’s an honor to be here with you and be on your beautiful campus here in High Point, certainly a bright spot here in our state. It has been my honor to serve the North Carolina hospitality industry for my entire career. There are about 20,000 food service establishments across North Carolina and about 2,000 lodging properties.
There are restaurants and hotels in each of the 100 counties, so they’re important employers all across the state. We’re also the sixth-most visited state, after California, Florida, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania. About 60 million people visit North Carolina a year.
Is it a growth industry? Our industry is growing. We look at pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, and a lot has changed in our state. We’ve added a tremendous number of restaurants and hotels in the state. We need more employees today than we did even pre-pandemic. And that, perhaps, is our biggest challenge.
You served under two or three different governors as the deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce. I did work for three governors and five secretaries of commerce, and I’ve had experience working under some amazing dynamic leaders. My role is to work inside the government to help grow the hospitality sector and tourism sector. Now, 12 years later, I find myself working for the private sector, trying to get government to stay out of the way, or add value so that businesses can continue to thrive and continue to support people.
We do a better job in North Carolina in that regard, don’t you think? I think we do. We’ve got a diverse economy which bodes well for us. We are not entirely tourism dependent, which is a good thing when things like COVID hit. And we have a diverse economy, a diverse workforce, a diverse topography. We have urban centers
and rural areas, we have amazing natural scenic beauty as well as conference centers
And thriving regions like the Triangle, Charlotte and the Triad. And all these businesses like Honda and Toyota coming here and making enormous investments in North Carolina and creating all kinds of jobs. Certainly that helps your business. Oh, it does. With that comes the need for more restaurants and more hotels, more business travel, more meetings, conventions. You know, it all works together really well.
You mentioned COVID. It was a period in which all of us had to adapt and adjust and show grit and courage and faith. It was a frightening period for large business and small business. What did your association do to encourage and inspire these many small business owners. COVID was a dark day for our industry. I’ll never forget on March 17, the governor went on TV and issued an executive order that folks were to stay home, that restaurants across the state were to be closed. My phone began to ring from business owners across the state. Many of these folks, restaurateurs particularly, live hand to mouth. They live on such thin profit margins that they were literally seeing their businesses evaporate.
They laid off about half their workforce in North Carolina. And we stepped up in an important way during that time. We were fortunate in North Carolina to have a good relationship with government officials, and I think that bode well for us. So, every time there was an executive order, we had a role in working with the administration to craft that in a way that did as little harm as possible to our industry.
We were involved in every single executive order making sure that when that announcement was made, we could answer all the questions from the business owners. And we fielded thousands and thousands of calls from business owners. We also stepped up to try to make consumers feel comfortable when they could come back into restaurants, and that was on May 22.
Even when we opened back up, there were still protocols, mask mandates, tables 10 feet apart, the kinds of things that we had to do to protect our guests, patrons and employees. So we were very much on the front line of all of that. Obviously since COVID, we’ve continued to be engaged today in helping our industry recover.
Are we back to 100% of pre-COVID level of business? We can’t just go back to 2019 because we’re living in 2023 and, that’s a long time – business growth, new restaurants, new hotels, increased demand. But what I will say is that business is strong across our state. Revenues are up, but largely that’s because prices are up, the cost of doing business is up. Labor costs are up, and so if you look at dollars spent, we are well ahead of where we were in 2019. It costs a lot more to eat out. People are spending a lot more to travel these days, and that’s having an impact.
The association provides legal and legislative guidance. Besides that, do you do seminars on hiring people, motivating employees? What I like to say to our members is, “We are watching that for you. While you’re running your business. We are interacting with government at every level. Any decision they make that impacts your business, we’re going to tell you about it, we are going to monitor that. We are going to advocate for you if it’s a bad decision that’s going to impact you adversely, we’re going to work to stop that legislation. If it’s a good policy, we’re going to work to get those passed. We’re going to keep you informed and engaged.”
The thing that we do best is that we harness the collective power of the industry. What has been the most fun for me in this role is trying to harness that voice, and reach out across the state to get people involved in effecting change.
We got a $500 million appropriation to help offset the losses of restaurants and hotels in North Carolina. The appropriation was part of the federal American Rescue Plan. And the way it worked was pretty amazing. Any restaurant or hotel that was down in gross sales by 20% got a check for 10% of their losses. It was amazing.
What do you see happening with the labor situation? It is a big challenge. It was before COVID, and it certainly is today. I think it’s the No. 1 concern of every single restaurant and every single hotel. But a number of our businesses across our state are feeling that pain as well.
We’re preparing to execute a campaign to talk about careers in the hospitality industry. So we think we have an opportunity to lure some of those folks back, to get students interested in careers in the industry, to understand that there are amazing and incredible career opportunities.
Are the larger owners of restaurant chains coming back quicker
and more profitable? To be fair, it impacted large, small, chain, independent probably equally. There were many restaurant concepts that were dramatically impacted, even if they are chains. When you’re shut down for eight weeks, there are huge losses. And many of them had to adapt their business models. They had to reformulate their dining establishments. They had to pivot to take-out windows, delivery and many of those made huge investments in technology and design. Many large businesses took on an immense amount of debt during COVID.
What makes a restaurant successful? Good leadership. Managers who take care of their people. I’m always amazed at the incredible lengths that people go to to take care of their people, to be good employers.
A keen business sense. It takes a real smart business owner to run a restaurant in
What would be the general profit of a restaurant? Does your association figure out what generally is the gross margin? Perhaps 20%? Not nearly that, I don’t think. I’m not involved in that side of the business. I do know it’s a thin margin. Some obviously operate on volume, so if they make a dollar a meal, they get that in volume. Fine-dining restaurants probably have a little bit greater margin but also pretty significant risks.
What is your view for 2024 and 2025 for the industry? Business is brisk. Hotels are working at pretty high levels of occupancy. They’re seeing bookings coming in on an expected basis. I think there are really three challenges they are facing today. One is workforce issues, then inflation with increased cost of supplies. And I’m watching an emerging trend about the health of our urban centers and declining business travel. These are issues we’ll have to reckon with, but business is strong.
I’m encouraged talking with you. Thank you for your leadership and I wish for you great things always. ■
How did Cline Church Nursery top the experience of delivering a Christmas tree to Vice President Kamala Harris last year? This year, the Ashe County business expects to present a 19-foot Fraser fir to first lady Jill Biden for display in the Blue Room as the official White House centerpiece to holiday decorations.
“It’s such an honor,” says Amber Scott. “It’s the White House’s tree. It’s the people’s tree. It belongs to everybody.” Scott and younger brother, Alex Church, share the distinction of growing the White House tree at the business started by their parents, Cline and Ellen Church, in the early 1970s.
The brother and sister have two children each, all four in Ashe County elementary schools. “We get to take our children and our families to the White House, which is so cool,”
Cline Church Nursery felled the selected tree on its approximate 700-acre Christmas tree farm in Fleetwood on Nov. 15 with the help of a crane-like boom truck. Traditionally, the donated tree gets delivered to the White House by horse-drawn carriage in a televised ceremony seen by millions.
Getting picked to provide the White House tree involves more than luck. “It’s a competition,” says Jennifer Greene, director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association. “Most people don’t realize that.” Church and Scott first had to win the state competition. Their peers at the National Christmas Tree Association picked their tree as grand champion at the competition held this summer in Minnesota, giving Church and Scott the honor of providing a Christmas tree to the White House.
North Carolina farmers have now sent a Christmas tree to the White House a record 15 times since 1966. Cartner’s Christmas Tree Farm in Avery County will receive the honor in 2024, having already won grand champion in the biennial competition.
White House chief usher Robert Downing and grounds superintendent Dale Haney picked the tree on a visit to the Cline Church Nursery in October. “They said it fit the theme of the White House decorations this year,” says Scott. The tree has a nice shape and blue-green color. She says it’s 11½-foot wide.
The Cline Family Nursery planted the seedling of the chosen tree in 2004, which means it likely started out as a seed in 2000, Scott says. Twenty-three years is a long time, says Scott, but even a 7-foot Christmas tree bought retail is likely 12 years old.
Their parents planted seedlings in the early 1970s and harvested their first Christmas trees in 1981, Scott says.
“My (younger) brother could drive any piece of equipment on the farm by the time he was 12,” says Scott.
They are not new to the competition, either. Two years ago, the siblings were runner-ups in the contest, which meant they delivered the Christmas tree to Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband. “They were very gracious hosts,” says Scott.
The vice president also bought an additional 24 trees – at retail prices, along with wreaths and garland from the nursery. “We got to go see all of our trees decorated on the property. It was beautiful,” she says.
Christmas trees represent big business in North Carolina, says Greene, with the state association. In 2017, which represents the last figures available, some 850 Christmas tree farmers sold about $86 million worth of trees wholesale. Those numbers are based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture census, when trees were selling at about $21 wholesale. Current wholesales prices are more than double that, Greene says. New figures based on 2022 sales should be available in early 2024.
The Cline-family business sells trees at its nursery but expects to sell up to 65,000 Christmas trees this year wholesale. The second-generation of the business gets the White House win, Scott says, but the founders – who are in their 60s and still active in the business – deserve the glory.
“We competed for it, but we’re still riding the coattails of our parents who put in many years of blood, sweat and tears for us and built
this business.” ■
North Carolina set a record for visitor spending with $33.3 billion in 2022, a 15.2% increase according to
the Department of Commerce. Growth in direct tourism employment was more evenly distributed among rural and urban counties with more than a quarter seeing double-digit increases. Still, the tourism and hospitality industry faces challenges to continue that growth. Leaders from across the state recently gathered to discuss tourism and hospitality’s growth and where it’s headed in the future.
The discussion was sponsored by: • Greenville-Pitt Convention & Visitors Bureau • Halifax County Convention & Visitors Bureau • Convention & Visitors Bureau for the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area • Richmond County Tourism Development Authority • Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority • Visit Winston-Salem Chris Roush, executive editor of Business North Carolina, moderated the discussion. It was edited for brevity and clarity.
PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELVES AND TELL ME ONE ISSUE IN TOURISM
ROBERTS:I’m Jessica Roberts, executive director of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority. And one of our biggest challenges is finding a workforce that can be available to work in several of our different employers.
WERZ: I’m Phil Werz, president and CEO of the Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. I would agree with Jessica that workforce development and affordable housing is a big deal. In fact, at Pinehurst resort, they’re going to take into consideration lodging for some of their workers. It is a big factor not just for the resort, but for tourism in general, in Moore County.
LAMBETH:My name is Meghann Lambeth, and I am the executive director of Richmond County Tourism next door to Moore County. And I agree with both of their statements, I feel like those are applicable in RichmondCounty. Also we have limited lodging. For some weekend events, it’s sufficient for what we have going on. But when we have larger national events, whether most of them are racing related, some kind of competitive sports, we don’t have anywhere near what we need. So that’s a big issue for us.
TUTTELL: And I’m Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit NC. I think one of our biggest issues isbalancing the needs of rural areas and urban areas and spreading out visitation so that everyone’sgetting as much as they need, but not too much.
MINGES: I’m Lynn Minges with the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, and I would echo what several of my colleagues have said about the workforce.
MEDLIN: I’m Lori Medlin with the Halifax County Convention and Visitors Bureau. So we’re on the I-95 corridor, just as you enter North Carolina from Virginia, and our hotels and restaurants are telling us they’re basically fully staffed. But what they’ve done, especially our restaurants, is cut back on days of service. No one’s open on Mondays. You know, a lot of people aren’t open for lunch until maybe Thursday. So getting everybody up to full speed is a challenge for us.
SCHMIDT: And I’m Andrew Schmidt, president and CEO of Visit Greenville, NC. Obviously, I think Iwould echo what our colleagues also said, but I think one thing that’s affecting us is our growth.We have a lot of growing going on at the same time and a lot of the same areas. So communicating to our visitors, what roads might be
closed this particular week while this hotel is going up or what detours might be available for certain events has been challenging for us over the last few months.
DO YOU STILL FEEL THAT YOU’RE RECOVERING FROM COVID? IS THERE STILL A COVID AFTEREFFECT THATIS IMPACTING YOUR COMMUNITIES?
ROBERTS: I think us being in a rural community, we weren’t really that heavily impacted about the pandemic. We fared very well. And being in a location that has lots of outdoor recreation and wineries. Ithasn’t really impacted us. We have surpassed our 2019 numbers.
WERZ: For golf, it was probably the best thing that ever happened. It was a tragedy as well. But it really impacted the golf industry. It’s an absolute boom, and the demand for golf now is through the roof. And now Gen Z is getting more involved. Golf is becoming more of a lifestyle kind of thing. So with COVID, we were impacted for maybe three or four months. But after that golf has taken off, and we haven’t looked back.
MINGES: I think we’re still feeling a whole lot of impact, not necessarily from COVID. The industry has changed, people have changed, workers have changed, priorities have changed. During COVID, we displaced, in the hospitality industry, abouthalf of our workforce. So over the last two years, we’ve had to hire 100,000 people a year to build back. Working to onboard them and train them has been a challenge. We saw mass numbers of retirees, and so that whole population left the workforce, many of them earlier than we had anticipated. I think our industry has, in a big way, embraced technology because they had to during COVID. They had to shift the way they do business. But in no way has it filled the void of workers. We still needmore workers than we needed before COVID.
TUTTELL:What fascinates me is there were so many changes that came with the pandemic. And we didn’t know which ones were permanent changes and which ones were temporary. It’s been like a lot of people said Zoom meetings are going to take 50% of the meetings. But we’ve seen in urban areas this year, and last year, meetings have come back. But work from home is still around. Nobody’s in the office. So therefore, if you’re a restaurant, why would you be open for lunch on a Monday or Friday? And that’s a challenge to trying to do business.
SCHMIDT: One of the good things that happened with COVID is people had to go outside. They learned that they loved camping, or they took up golf. Being in eastern North Carolina, we have a lot of outdoor assets, and they are being utilized to the point where sometimes there’s not enough space for everybody, especially on certain event weekends.
HOW IS TECHNOLOGY OVERALL IMPACTING TRAVEL AND HOSPITALITY?
MINGES: During COVID, we got used to contactless payment. And so we’re all using that today to rent cars, to check into hotels, to purchase things, to view a menu. And pre COVID, we were terrified of that. We’re doing itbecause we’ve learned to do it, and it’s more efficient. So we’re seeing that take place. We’re seeing efficiencies that are created by technology in front of the house and in the back of the house. But surprisingly, even with those efficiencies, when we look atthe hard numbers, we need more employees to date than we needed pre COVID. So those technologies are making us more efficient, better suited to deliver high-quality service, but they’re not necessarily reducing the demand for workers. So we’re using technology. It’s a good thing, but it’s not replacing the need for workers todeliver quality customer service.
WERZ:The biggest thing we look at in destination marketing is artificial intelligence. There are certain things we can do with AI. As far as copywriting, you’re going to be able to do videos with AI. But is it going to replace my staffer? Probably not. So it’s something that we’re looking at on a daily basis, at least my colleague is. And I know the (Pinehurst) resort is looking at it as well, because they always want to be on the forefront of what’s going on in technology. And so AI has been a big, big topic for us.
TUTTELL: A new platform comes along like TikTok. Suddenly it’s massive, and you need to be on it when you didn’t have a TikTok strategy a year ago. Things like Booking.com, those types of sites can come in and just change the game. And those changes are happening faster and faster than they did before.
WHEN I THINK ABOUT AI, I ENVISION BEING ABLE TO GO TO A WEBSITE OF MOUNT AIRY AND BEING ABLE TO VIRTUALLY WALK THROUGH IT AND SEE THE ANDY GRIFFITH STATUE. ARE Y’ALL DOING THINGS LIKE THAT?
WERZ: We’re launching a new website beginning in 2024, that will incorporate AI. So you’ll be able to go in and you’ll be able to ask questions, you will get responses back, you’ll be able to book your room. Everything will be able to be done online, in real time. I need to learn more about that myself. But I mean, it’s amazing the technology and the capabilities that are there.
SCHMIDT: It actually gives more control to that meeting planner. So on our convention center website, anybody can go in and design their own setup now. They can go in and say, “I want my convention hall to look like this,” or “I want my meeting room to look like this.” So we give them an opportunity to design it. It saves us time on the back end because we’re not going through and making diagrams.
LET’S GET BACK TO THE WORKFORCE ISSUE. WHERE ARE YOU GETTING YOUR WORKERS FROM? AND HOW ARE YOU RECRUITING THEM TO COME FOR THOSE JOBS? THAT SEEMS LIKE A MAJOR ISSUE FOR ALL OF YOU.
SCHMIDT: One issue is education. So we’re going into high schools and other places, and educating these kids that are going to be in the workforce that maybe are not going to college, about careers in our industry. How do you become ageneral manager at a hotel? And there’s a clear path, but these kids don’t know what that path is. And they also don’t know the kind of living you can make in a career like that. It’s agood living. And then the other part is really working with parents and others to educate them about careers in the hospitality industry as well. So it’s really exposure in education.
MEDLIN:We’ve been talking to our community college about this career path and how fast people move in this industry. And so we’re looking at not necessarily a two-year program, but some certificate programs where they go into the schools before they even graduate from high school and talk to them about this industry and offer a certificate and then going into the hotels and the restaurants. We’re kind ofexcited about that. And then hopefully, there’ll be a two-year curriculum there soon that’ll leadpeople into this industry.
MEGHANN, ARE YOU DOING SIMILAR STUFF IN RICHMOND COUNTY?
LAMBETH:Richmond Community College is our local community college and they’re very much immersed into our community. And the high school has hired a teacher that is now just focused on career development. So there’s a new bond that’s growing, not too new, but it is developing.
MINGES: Largely, we’re talking about not having enough workers to work in hotels and restaurants. During COVID, when we displaced half of our workforce, we went to the General Assembly and asked that they allocate some of the state’s portion from the American Rescue Plan to help our industry recover. And so the North Carolina Restaurant Lodging Association received a grant of $5 million to develop and execute a hospitality workforce recruitment campaign. It’s all centered around a website that is intended to introduce people to careers in the hospitality industry. It’s a centralized job portal that today lists about 20,000 restaurant and hotel jobs that are open and available in North Carolina. It allows people to search by location, or it will default to the location they are currently sitting in. And it will pull jobs from their area, they can search by the kind of job. This morning when I checked, there were over 5,000 jobs in our industry that pay close to $50,000 a year just in North Carolina.
The second thing we’re trying to do on that website is to really talk about the career opportunities because of some of the research we did in the industry. When you drill down and ask them in focus groups, “Why did you leave?” and they said “well, I just didn’t see a career pathway. I wasdoing that. So I could earn a living to get through high school or to buy a car.” They saw that as a transactional sort of job. And so what we’ve tried to do on the website is interview over 100 employees who are currently working in our industry across the state. And they talk about their stories and what they like about the industry and they talk about their career path.
LET’S SWITCH GEARS AND TALK ABOUT THE END PRODUCT. HOW ARE YOU GETTING MORE PEOPLE TO VISIT YOUR COMMUNITIES? IS THERE ANYTHING NEW OR INTERESTING YOU’RE DOING?
SCHMIDT: What we’ve done differently over the last year, is going away from traditional marketing avenues and spending where the streaming services are, whether it’s audio streaming, or television streaming. Less people have cable. People are watching thingslike Hulu.
The other thing is seeing how your target market has changed. For us, we’re looking at more sustainable tourism opportunities for people. That’s what the research really shows that people are looking for. And also multigenerational travel is something that we’re seeing more of as well, whether it’s for leisure, travel, or even we’re seeing it for sports travel. I think it’s just looking at what is going on in your particular area and how you’re reaching your particular target market.
MEDLIN: We sort of decided that we need new products on the I-95 corridor to bring new visitors in. We’re really excited to share that the legislature looked at developing rural tourism districts for rural areas in North Carolina. So we’re hopeful when they get back in session in May, that they’ll look at that seriously and put those areas in North Carolina so we can build new products. We’re also really excited about America’s 250th birthday, which is coming up in 2026. And it all started in Halifax, North Carolina. So the state is kicking off that celebration in April in Halifax with a two-year long celebration for our state and the nation. I think we’ll see some new visitors, some history travelers and people coming in because we have a lot of Revolutionary War history here in North Carolina.
ROBERTS:Being in an area where I am with not great broadband and
Wi-Fi, we’ve added lots of new wayfinding and signage throughout our county, which has really helped drop people into the downtowns and to the hotels to destinations and that’s just a constant thing for rural areas, especially in the western part of the state.
WIT, TAKE A MORE STATEWIDE VIEW OF WHAT THE ISSUES ARE FOR TRAVEL AND TOURISM INSTEAD OF A COUNTY VIEW OR A REGIONAL VIEW.
TUTTELL: North Carolina is so diverse. It’s an incredible blessing. We run from the most undeveloped beaches in the eastern United States, the highest mountains in the eastern United States and incredibly fascinating communities in between. That’s great, but when you’re trying to get that into seven seconds, that’s an incredible challenge. You really have to balance things to showcase. We try to do things that are open to anyone in the state that anybody in the state can participate in and aren’t specific to the coast or specific to the mountains, or specific to the Piedmont.
DO YOU GET MOST OF YOUR VISITORS FROM IN THE STATE, OR DO THEY COME IN FROM OUT OF STATE?
ROBERTS: We get a lot from the urban areas in North Carolina. We get a lot from Virginia, like the Roanoke area. And then Ohio was huge for us (with people from there) coming down on their way to Florida. We get them coming and going. So we’ve been targeting them to get them to come back and play on more vacations our way. So that’s a big, big destination for us.
MEDLIN:I’m a little unusual in that department. I’m on the I-95 corridor. Yeah, we’re getting visitors from New York to Florida, a lot of visitors from the Northeast. So we advertise that way. We do a lot of billboard campaigns that way. The impact of that corridor and people coming back and forth all the way up and down the United States, coming in and out of our communities, is tremendous. Probably 70% of our visitors are traveling on that corridor, and they’re planning to stay with us on their way up and down. And then we try. And our goal is to try to get them to stay longer.
TUTTELL: Even though we have fantastic airports, we’re still a drive market for mostly domestic visitation. So it’s really those drive-in markets that are important. It’s usually about a 60-40 split. So 40% of the visitors are in-state visitors and 60% are out-of-state. But those out-of-state visitors, even though they don’t visit as often, they spend more and stay longer, so they have more impact.
WERZ: In Moore County, because we have Pinehurst, it’s unique because we have our marketing budget. Obviously Pinehurst resort has its marketing budget, too. So we’ll coordinate and say, “Hey, where are you spending your golf dollars? Where can we kind of fill in?” It’s great to have that flexibility where we can kind of lay it on the resort a little bit and then kind of do our own thing as well.
WHEN I LIVED IN ATLANTA, SUGAR AND BEECH WERE THE ONLY PLACES I EVER WENT SKIING. AND I JUST KEPT GOING BACK. IF YOU HAVE A GOOD EXPERIENCE AT A PLACE, YOU JUST WANT TO KEEP REPEATING THAT GOOD EXPERIENCE. IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE ALL TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?
LAMBETH: You find something, and you’re like, “This works. This is where now I can go.” We just got a new digital sign that is enormous. I don’t recall the exact number of measurements, but it’s in front of the dragway, which is across from the former NASCAR track which can be a NASCAR track again. But it has been such a wonderful marketing tool, because there’s so much traffic coming in from Raleigh and other places.
WHERE DO YOU SEE TRAVEL AND TOURISM CHANGING IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS? WHAT CAN YOU DO TO KEEP GROWING?
ROBERTS: We’ve seen tremendous growth with our wine region being the Yadkin Valley wine region. And we areworking tremendously with our partners in Wilkes County and Yadkin County and collaborating with them to spread our advertising out. So I see that growing still. We’ve also expanded our food trails. Of course, Mayberry is still our biggest hook, and will continue to be very important to our tourism. We’re a big wedding destination as well. We have a lot of wedding barns, a lot of higher end restaurants that have come around since I’ve been there.
WERZ: Moore County is already a globally recognized destination. So people are already coming from around the world. There are so many Department of Transportation projects that have been put on hold that the day after the US Open in 2024, it will be the highestconcentration of highway projects in the state with 12 different projects going on. So by the 2029 US Open, it is going to be a completely different destination, every road in and out of there is going to be five lanes and much easier to get into and out of that area.
LAMBETH: I think (we have) the spillover from that growth, which we already have a lot of, coupled with the growth of our established things that are already bringing so many people from racing to a motocross track in Ellerbe, that you would never know that it’s even there because it’s in the woods. So I think just the growth of those things, which is another continuation of COVID. People got really into their sport, especially if it happened to be something that was conducive to doing during that time period, they got even more engaged in it. I didn’t want to keep going off to all my random stories. We did have an Andre the Giant festival for the first time this year.
HOLD ON. ANDRE THE GIANT? THE FAMOUS WRESTLER?
LAMBETH: The guy who is the chair of the museum board called me maybe in April and told me about it. So the consensus was, well let’s have a festival. So I got really nervous. It was just three of us planning this event. And the day before the festival, I’m getting all these texts. Here’s one (feature) in Sports Illustrated. It was all these national things. And I was like, “This is really good. It was a wonderful day.”
YOU NEED AN ANDRE THE GIANT IMPERSONATOR ENTERED INTO A DRAG RACE.
LAMBETH:Crazy. Awesome. OK.
TUTTELL:Our goal would be to see North Carolina be a year-round destination. That’s the best traveldestination in the South. And I say that because we don’t include Florida in the South because it’s not really southern. And I think we have an opportunity to grow in a smart way. And a lot ofother states haven’t done that. And I think we have the foresight and the people that care enough to see that we grow it to be the biggest destination in the South in the right way. ■
Despite setbacks, Nash and Edgecombe counties are ready to shine.
Rocky Mount straddles the Nash and Edgecombe county line. A railroad track, anchored by the Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station, separates the sides.
Like the Amtrak trains and Greyhound buses that rush through, the city and both counties are moving forward. It’s a rebuild, of sorts, interrupted by upended business investments and Mother Nature.
In December 2021, a fire took out the QVC plant and distribution center in Edgecombe, destroying 75% of the $1.5 million building and putting 2,000 employees out of work. In May 2022, China-based Triangle Tyre pulled out of a $580 million deal at the Kingsboro megasite that was to create 800 jobs.
Then last July, a tornado estimated at 600-yards wide ripped through Rocky Mount and touched downin Dortches.
“We continue to celebrate that by the grace of God no one was killed,” says David Farris, president and CEO of the Rocky Mount Chamber of Commerce. “We had well over 100 homes damaged or destroyed, but we really were
For officials in these counties 45 minutes east of Raleigh, the focus is on optimism, not rearview mirrors.
Rocky Mount Downtown Development manager Tanika Bryant saw potential in the town
of 54,300 when she came from Kentucky in 2022. “What made me say yes to this job was the people,” she says. “Seeing their belief in the city, and downtown, as well as their passion to put the needed work in, along with the great food, friendly people and beautifulhistoric downtown, I was sold.
“The most important thing that has changed downtown in the past year and a half is the hope of the downtown business owners,” adds Bryant. “Many when we first met were not too optimistic, and they made sure to let me know with lots of passion. However, that has changed tremendously. We are a big family working together to rebuild downtown.”
Four new apartment complexes have opened, she says, with another scheduled for December. “We’ve also welcomed roughly 10 new businesses downtown during my tenure,” she says. “So yes, downtown revitalization is very real for Rocky Mount.”
On the Edgecombe side, County Manager Eric Evans says his leadership team last spring created four focus areas, including its being 99th out of 100 on a Community Health Needs Assessment, an evaluation required every four years by the N.C. Division of
“About eight or nine months ago, I realized we have a generic mission statement we’ve had for 20 or 30 years, but we never had a vision statement. We needed to describe that place on the hill that we aspire to get to,” Evans says. “Our goal is to have a task force for each focus area by the end of December and have our first meeting.”
On the Nash side, Economic Developer Susan Phelps sees tangible progress in the county’s Strategic Action Plan crafted in 2020 to address infrastructure, workforce and housing. “We created a marketing campaign and have new shell buildings and are working really hard on workforce development campaigns with Nash Community College and N.C. Wesleyan (in Rocky Mount) to provide our industries with the resources they need,” she says.
The Carolina Gateway Partnership, headquartered on Main Street in Rocky Mount, recruits industries to eastern North Carolina, specifically in Edgecombe, Rocky Mount and Tarboro. Its Kingsboro site, with a 400-acre ready-to-go lot nixed by the tire company, is rated the No.1 megasite in the Southeast, based on a study by the state’s General Assembly.
Partnership Vice President Oppie Jordan mentions three “very active” projects eyeing Kingsboro: a $4.2 billion investment, a $2 billion investment that could bring 1,000 jobs and a third at $1.4 billion and 1,400 jobs. “If you add those three together, it’s more than $7 billion in investment and (with) one of them, we’re the only site in North Carolina they’re looking at,” Jordan says. “They plan to have a site picked by [the] first quarter 2024. We have a pad-ready site ready to go, all the utilities and infrastructure in place and one of the best advantages is, we have the location. I mean, that’s more than 3,000 jobs.”
Adds Farris: “Our economic growth continues to move the needle in a positive way. We have several business parks that are all receiving a lot of inquiries, and in some places, plans have been made to relocate or expand. After the tornado, we’re back in operation. That’s the best way to put it.”
Edgecombe: Get off the lists! At a leadership retreat last March, Evans says, the question arose: Who do we want to be? “It’s a two-sided statement,” he says. “One side faces our citizens and asks who, and how, they want our county to be. The other side faces us and asks how we, as an organization, can help our county. We’re tired of being at the top or bottom of every bad list.”
Influenced by that 99th-ranking in community health, the county adopted a pledge called Get Off the Lists!, hosted community engagement sessions in Tarboro, Rocky Mount and virtually, and established four focus areas: youth and families, affordable housing, education and workforce development and health equity.
“My theory is we have all the right things, it’s just not enough. So, under each area, we have ‘existing efforts,’ and we ask, where are the gaps? How do we help these entities increase their positive output?” Evans says. “We need better funding, more collaboration, increased leadership abilities, all of those. That’s our model on the table. This is the lens we look through to make decisions.”
The N.C. Department of Commerce shows Edgecombe with the second-highest unemployment rate in the state on average at 6.1%.
“It’s one of the many lists we look at. It stares us in the face,” Evans says. “So, I talked with the community college and said, we can have students apply for Pell Grants, we can have scholarships and student aid, but sometimes there’s still a gap.”
Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro recently began its Edgecombe Works! Promise Program for high school graduates, county employees, job-seekers and the under-employed, with scholarships of $500 to $1,000 to cover transportation, child care or other needs so students can study fields such as auto repair, medication aide, nail technician, construction, nurse aid, real estate pre-licensing and others. The community college added an Edgecombe Works! Office Skills Academy, taught at the Tarboro campus and online, and Edgecombe Works! Earn as You Learn for county employees to increase their skill sets.
The Turning Point Workforce Development Board in Rocky Mount, one of 23 such boards in the state and part of NCWorks, is a non-profit governed by a board of directors in partnership with elected officials. Services include on-the-job training, incumbent workforce development, specialized training and company needs assessments. “They are a great resource for us,” Farris says. “They have direct ties with some of our largest employers like Cummins, Pfizer, Honeywell, Cheesecake Factory. They help get people onboard.”
Cummins’ Rocky Mount Engine Plant in Whitakers, a 1.3-million square-foot factory that employs more than 2,000, opened in 1983 and in May marked the production of its 5 millionth engine.
“We’re working feverishly to bring more jobs,” Evans says. “We’ve had the housing crisis, hurricanes, floods but the folks here don’t give up. We have the ingredients; it’s all right here. We can change the future of this county. I really believe that.”
Nash: If they build it… The Middlesex Corporate Center is 25 minutes from downtown Raleigh. In October, a life sciences company agreed to buy its 62,500-square-foot shell building and its 30-acre plot for $4.6 million. The company intends to create 72 jobs with an average annual salary
“They have a five-year plan,” Phelps says. “They’re adding another 200,000 square feet. That’s why they needed the land.”
In August, Nash County and the town of Nashville reached a joint agreement for the county to build a 40,000-square-foot shell building at the Nashville Business Center, owned by the town. Construction will begin within two years.
“Middlesex is probably our most active industrial park in the county because of the proximity to the Triangle, and we have another supply type company in that park that’s looking to expand,” she says.
Andy Hagy, Nash’s Economic Development director, notes that the county has one of the few 1 million-square-foot sites in the region and is hoping to acquire a major logistics and distribution company, or manufacturing and distribution. “That’s the size of a couple of super Walmarts,” he says. “And at our I-95 and I-97 Industrial Site, we also have some hot property.”
That 142-acre site, with access to highways, airports and the CSX Carolina Connector Intermodal Terminal, is billed as a “high priority for state incentives” because of Nash’s
Tier 1 economic ranking.
“It’s a love-hate relationship because you don’t want to be Tier 1, but with the incentives you do want Tier 1,” Phelps says. “We’re working really hard on a workforce development campaign to provide our industries with the resources they need, and that goes back to the community college and them providing customized training to help us grow our own.”
A non-profit agency called the Strategic Twin Counties Education Partnership is working with K-12 students, she says, “to align coursework with what our industry workforce is.”
In November 2022, towns in Nash County partnered with the county’s Board of Commissioners to create the Nash County Economic Development Alliance to focus on small business, entrepreneurship and downtown revitalization, thereby acknowledging a broader picture of business in the county.
“In addition, we’re also supporting private landowners who want to see development on their land,” Phelps says. “And we’re working with them to get certified through the Duke Energy Site Readiness program.”
In October, the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority, a division of the Department of Commerce, approved $2.6 million in grants for seven rural communities in hopes of attracting $53.7 million in investments and creating 321 jobs, according to a release. Nash County, the report says, will receive $750,000 to assist with creation of a lift station and additional sewer line expansion for Middlesex Corporate Centre. This project will open up more than 170 more acres of the park for industrial usage.
Some good news Several developments in the area show promise for the future. They include:
• The city of Rocky Mount has applied for the Main Street America program, a division of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which coordinates with local communities to “bring economic vitality back downtown, while celebrating their historic character, and bringing communities together.”
“We should find out in the spring,” Farris says. “We’re seeing the live-work-play trend, and more and more townhouses are being developed on upper floors of our businesses that would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything you’d see in a metropolitan city.”
• In May, QVC sold its property to RMQ Ventures, listed as a North Carolina foreign limited liability company, for $20.8 million. Plans for its use haven’t been disclosed.
• Nash Community College had its largest enrollment ever for the 2022-23 academic year at 16,007 students. “They, and Edgecombe Community College, work very closely with our manufacturing partners, and they pay close attention as technology changes,” Farris says. “Cummins (engine plant in Whitakers) is in the process of upgrading every piece of technology in that plant, and it’s one of the largest Cummins plants in the world. When you have partnerships and relations in the likes of Nash Community College and Edgecombe Community College and N.C. Wesleyan, it’s great for recruiting industries and seeing them expand, because they know they have the resources to train the workforce.”
• In October, N.C. Wesleyan partnered with Rocky Mount to offer educational opportunities to city employees, to “develop practical skills that they can apply to their careers through certificate, undergraduate and graduate degree programs at N.C. Wesleyan University,” according to a release. The partnership allows N.C. Wesleyan to offer a one-time $250 University Award of enrollment in certificate classes to each Rocky Mount employee during their last semester of enrollment.
•The CSX Carolina Connector that opened in 2021 on 330 acres near Rocky Mount joined with the Port of Savannah’s Mason Megal Rail Terminal in September for daily rail service. According to the release, with 37 weekly services, the Port of Savannah offers more containership calls linking more world markets than any other port in the mid-Atlantic or U.S. Southeast.
Overall, what community leaders see is optimism.
Says Farris, “I go by [residential/ business development] Rock Mount Mills every day and it looks like a Norman Rockwell setting, with the townhouses that overlook the river, the homes, the breweries and restaurants, the businesses and shops. It’s a beautiful place to spend the evening or start your day. We are excited about where we’re going. Everything seems to be breaking our way.”
Adds Evans: “I think we have all the right ingredients. We suffer from some of the same problems as other places, but I think the difference is that we have everything here we need to move forward. It’s all available to us. We’ve got it; we just need to coordinate it and use it.” ■
— Kathy Blake is a writer from eastern North Carolina.
Almost a decade ago, the city of Hickory embarked on a plan to reinvigorate its downtown by investing $98 million in transformative projects to spur economic growth, attract residents and businesses and create a better quality of life. Part of that money went to the Hickory Trail, a 10-mile multimodal urban trail that connects walkers and bicyclists to some of Hickory’s assets – Lake Hickory, the renovated downtown, educational centers, sports and entertainment venues and the regional airport. It includes a bridge across U.S. 321.
Private investments downtown include One North Center, a $19 million mixed-use development that opened in 2021 along the City Walk portion of the trail. Additional mixed-use developments have also been announced.
This fall, Appalachian State University opened its satellite campus in a 225,000-square-feet, five-story building that had been vacant for about four years. The App State building is about a five-minute drive from downtown. The city already had private Lenoir-Rhyne University and Catawba Valley Community College.
The public and private investments downtown have resulted in urban renewal for the Piedmont city of about 44,000 residents with a historical manufacturing base in furniture, hosiery and textiles.
Downtown Hickory. Well Crafted.
As the Central Business District, Downtown Hickory is filled with a variety of unique retail shops, restaurants, corporate headquarters, professional offices, and entertainment venues, all in a park-like setting in the heart of Hickory.
In November 2018, City Council unanimously approved the renovation ofUnion Square in Downtown Hickory, while additionally enhancing streetscapes to complement the plans for the new Hickory Trail.
The Hickory Trail (www.hkytrail.com), a 10-mile multimodal urban trail system connecting destinations across the city, is the result of a now $98 million investment to generate economic development and attract industry.
The Downtown makeover increased “dwell time” by creating spaces where visitors can
comfortably enjoy solitary or group activities. The Square maintained its historic feel while modernizing aesthetics. A new multi-purpose shade structure, now called the CommScope Stage, was added. The Sails on the Square Stage remained intact and continues to host a variety of entertainment.
An elevated cannon on a multi-tiered structure, nicknamed Cannon Hill, serves as an interactive feature, as well as offers additional seating and a unique vantage point of the Square. Increased lighting and security, atmospheric music, and complimentary Wi-Fi for Downtown visitors were all added during the renovation.
A ribbon cutting was held on September 23, 2019, to celebrate the completion of the Union
In addition to the newly renovated Square, Downtown Hickory is home to Lowes Foods City Park with fun, interactive features and a splash pad area. New Downtown living, including shops, restaurants, and breweries have opened and continued to be built, offering new amenities for those who seek an active Downtown lifestyle.
On March 15, 2022, the Hickory Downtown Social District was established to allow residents to enjoy alcoholic beverages in its newly revitalized downtown area. Hickory was one of the first in the state to adopt a Social District. This is a benefit to downtown establishments and enhances any event that is held in that area. The Sails Original Music Series is one of those events that brings people from all over to enjoy downtown Hickory and the renovated Union Square.
Confused by what you’ve read about the Corporate Transparency Act?
You’re not alone. Read on to learn what it is, who it applies to, what it will do, and the requirements for compliance.
What is the Corporate Transparency Act?
The Corporate Transparency Act was created to provide law enforcement with beneficial ownership information related to specific business entities to detect, prevent, and punish terrorism, money laundering, and other misconduct.
When does the Corporate Transparency Act take effect?
The Corporate Transparency Act will go into effect on January 1, 2024.
Reporting entities created before the end of 2023 will have until January 1, 2025, to file beneficial ownership information. For companies registered after January 1, 2024, the requirement for filing ownership information is 30 days after the proposed registration, but there are proposed regulations that would extend the reporting time to 90 days, with the 30-day reporting period not going into effect until January 1, 2025.
Which companies need to file beneficial owner information under the Corporate Transparency Act?
The Corporate Transparency Act applies to a variety of domestic reporting companies, including corporations, LLCs, LLPs, LLLPs, LPs, non-profit corporations, and business trusts, as well as any other entity that is created by the filing of a document with the Secretary of State or Native American tribe.
Any foreign company doing business in the US with a physical location in the US will also need to file ownership information under the Act.
What companies are exempt from filing under the Corporate Transparency Act?
There are 23 exemptions from the definition of “Reporting Company” in the Corporate Transparency Act. Companies in already heavily regulated industries, such as insurance, banking, financial brokerages, exchanges, clearing agencies, public accounting firms, political organizers, investment advisors, investment companies who pooled investment rewards, accountants, and Commodity Exchange Act registered agencies, are typically going to be exempt.
However, most importantly, large domestic corporations with at least 20 employees AND tax returns showing more than $5 million in gross receipts or sales will be exempt from the Act.
Are non-profits exempt from filing for the Corporate Transparency Act?
Various tax-exempt entities and entities assisting tax-exempt entities are also not required to report ownership information (tax-exempt entities are generally formed as non-profits). To be tax-exempt under the Corporate Transparency Act, the entity must be a 501(c) and exempt under 501(a) of the code.
Are Community Associations or Homeowners Associations exempt from filing with the Corporate Transparency Act?
Not at this time. Community Associations organized under 528 will be subject to the Act. Only Community Associations organized under 501(c)(4) or under 501(c)(7) will be exempt.
What is a “beneficial owner”?
For the purpose of the Act, the definition of a beneficial owner is an individual who directly or indirectly, through any contract, arrangement, understanding, relationship, or otherwise: exercises “substantial control” over a reporting company OR owns or controls 25% or more of the “ownership interests” of a reporting company.
What if my company is owned by a Trust?
Companies owned by a trust will have to report the name of the trustee and any beneficiaries designated more than 25% benefits. Essentially, anyone who has authority to dispose of trust assets.
What if the beneficiary of a trust is a minor? The parent or guardian information would be reported until the child reaches the age of majority.
What happens when changes in ownership happen in the ordinary course of business?
The Reporting Company has 30 days to file the updated report.
Who will be able to see the ownership information? Is this information public?
Beneficial ownership information submitted via the Act’s portal will not be publicly available.
Instead, the information will only be available to:
The Federal Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)
Certain other law enforcement agencies with court approval
Non-US law enforcement agencies, i.e., foreign governments
Financial institutions and regulators with the consent of the reporting company
How much does it cost to file my business information under the Corporate Transparency Act?
There is no fee associated with filing.
How much will it cost if I decide not to file my business under the Corporate Transparency Act?
Willful reporting violations carry a $500 per day civil penalty; criminal violations are up to $10,000, or two years in prison. Unauthorized disclosure or use carries civil fines of $500 per day and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 or five years in prison or both. The fines start at $500 a day, up to $250,000 per day if the government finds you are trying to perpetrate a fraud.
What, exactly, will my company be required to report to the government under the Corporate Transparency Act?
Reporting companies will be required to share the legal name, trade name, DBA, taxpayer ID, and street address.
Beneficial owners will have to report their name, date of birth, residential street address, and valid state-issued photo ID (i.e., Driver’s License or passport). The corporate street address for beneficial owners may NOT be used.
What should I do to file to be compliant with the Corporate Transparency Act?
FinCEN’s filing system is currently under development and will not be available until January 1, 2024.
What if I am unclear on what I or my company should do now?
Please ask your business attorney for counsel. If you are unrepresented, we are accepting new clients and are assisting businesses with the issues surrounding filing for compliance with the Corporate Transparency Act.
Public information regarding FinCEN’s filing requirements and timeline may change. We will post new information on our website as it becomes available. ■
This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.