Lay of the Land
North Carolina’s Carolina Core isn’t just gaining traction. This more than 120-mile corridor through the central part of the state is off and running and speeding past many other areas regionally and nationally when it comes to attracting a variety of high-profile companies.
It’s surge in attention has many businesses and potential investors wondering what the Carolina Core is and why it’s so hot right now. To answer those questions and more, we went to Loren Hill, who is the Regional Economic Development Director for the Carolina Core. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: What is the Carolina Core?
A: The Carolina Core is a brand that was built on the fact that there were four megasites along US Highway 421. Megastites are at least a thousand acres ready for development for a transformational project That was unusual in the country, so the Piedmont Triad Partnership and our various regional economic development partners realized that we should market these megasites collectively to bring attention to this brand.
Since the Piedmont Triad region name is not necessarily recognizable outside of the immediate area and sometimes even within the state, a new name was developed. The notion was, whereas somebody in Seattle with a company trying to locate might have no idea where in the world Piedmont Triad was, if you say NC Carolina Core, you would draw the assumption it's the central part of North Carolina. So that's where the name came from.
It was a brand put out by the Piedmont Triad Partnership and embraced by our regional partners with the awareness that we're giving other areas additional attention, additional marketing to help make their sites higher in the eyes of site selection consultants and companies looking to locate or expand.
Q: What is the geographic makeup of the Carolina Core?
A: We include Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Cumberland, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Harnett, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, Person, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes, and Yadkin counties along with parts of adjoining counties. Our largest cities are Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, High Point, Burlington, Thomasville, Asheboro, Sanford, Kernersville, Clemmons, Lexington, Mebane, and Pinehurst.
Those are our primary areas, but we don’t adhere to strict geographic boundaries. We’re trying to market our combined assets in the region, so we go beyond these counties when we need to. For example, Alamance County is one of the Piedmont Triad Partnership counties, and Mebane is two thirds in Alamance County and one third in Orange but we would certainly work in that chunk of Orange County where Mebane is in.
The same thing in Harnett and Johnston Counties. We work with a group called the I-95, I-40 Crossroads of America Economic Development Alliance, and they cover Harnett and parts of Harnett and parts of Johnston. So even though Johnston isn’t one of our counties, if they needed any help from us, we would certainly go there as well.
Q: When we’re talking about the Carolina Core, does the brand go beyond the megasites?
A: At this point, the Carolina Core includes five of the state’s megasites, but we’re so much beyond those in what we’re promoting. The megasites were our original focus and sort of the push to get us to look at things in this corridor. We've gone well past that now though, and there's more to it than that. The megasites are just a small part of our business today.
Q: What makes the region that encompasses the Carolina Core so attractive to companies?
A: All of North Carolina has done well lately, and we've been on tops of lists of the best places to do business, so that helps. Also, we call ourselves the third economic engine of the state. The Research Triangle area and Charlotte are both powerhouses and have had such great success. We adjoin both of those areas, share assets with those places, and share workforce with them. It's natural that if they're doing well and we are sandwiched in between and have assets of our own and available buildings and land, that companies would want to come here as well. So, it's a natural progression to take advantage of that and be able to use the synergistic effects of being close to those two powerhouses.
Q: What types of companies are coming to the Core?
A: Companies are coming from all kinds of different industry sectors. Many of the jobs are manufacturing, and that's not a surprise. We've always said that North Carolina's been traditionally a manufacturing state and certainly here in the Piedmont Triad region, we’ve always said that we were the manufacturing heart of a manufacturing State. But the manufacturing now is certainly much different than it used to be.
If you go through the list of projects that have been announced for here since January 2021, there are lots of manufacturing companies, but it may be biopharmaceutical, airplanes, automobiles, etc. There's a big focus on the transportation sector, whether it's school buses or cars that are being made or batteries for vehicles and supersonic planes. So, there's a whole transportation focus, for sure, in addition to the biotech focus of our area.
Q: What are some of the big company announcements that have happened for the Core over the past year?
A: We’ve had Toyota Battery announce that it’s coming to the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite; Wolfspeed is coming to the Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing site with more than 1,400 acres still available there for additional projects; VinFast is coming to Triangle Innovation Point; Boom Supersonic is coming to the Piedmont Triad International Airport with more than 900 acres remaining for additional aerospace projects there; and there’s impressive interest in the Person County Mega Park, which has more than 1,350 available acres.
Q: It seems like interest in the Core has really picked up recently. Why is that the case?
A: There are certainly companies that are paying attention to us and investigating to see what kind of assets are here because they’ve seen other announcements coming, but it's also the fact that we've been preparing. Our inside joke is, we appear to be an overnight success but it's a 10- to 20-year-in-the-making overnight success.
The megasites had to be put together, which the Piedmont Triad Partnership started in the case of the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite where Toyota is going. There were lots of partners coming together to make that happen. It was purchased by several different entities – the Brian Foundation out of Greensboro which formed a separate foundation called the Greensboro Randolph Megasite Foundation, Randolph County and then the North Carolina Railroad. The City of Greensboro offered to extend its utilities out of its city limits across the county line to serve that megasite. So, it was a host of partners looking at things from a regional perspective that may not have been done before.
That laid the groundwork for what has truly become a regional effort. Asheboro in Randolph County extended its utilities across the county lines to serve the Wolfspeed project near Siler City, and Sanford and Lee County are extending their utilities across the county line into Chatham County for Vinfast. So it's been lots of advanced planning, working behind the scenes and the best regional cooperation I've seen in my 25 years as an economic developer in North Carolina.
Q: What is the greatest challenge that you all are now facing in the development of the Carolina Core?
A: When the brand was announced in 2018, the goal was that in 20 years, 50,000 new office and industrial jobs would be created in the Carolina Core. Now, here we are four years later and because of all the activity, especially in the last year and a half, more than 39,000 office and industrial jobs have been announced.
While it’s a wonderful thing that we’ve done way better than anyone ever dreamed, our challenge now is to make sure that we have the workers that are needed for all these jobs. We can't just sit back and say, "Oh, people will come. They'll find the workers they need." We have to be proactive. We already have multiple partners, including the community colleges, working unbelievably well together to train folks for these jobs that are coming.
In addition, we're going to have workers coming into the area as well. To help attract talent here, we're working to show off the many positive qualities about the corridor such as our natural assets, our quality of life, and the number of business opportunities available. We know it has to be a multipronged effort, and that’s how we’re approaching it.
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