With a population of 168,000 scattered over 655 square miles, the county has steadily grown its labor force and business culture through a mixture of private-public partnerships, an emphasis on education and training, and by offering low-cost energy, low taxes, access to natural resources, and turnkey industrial space. In particular, Pitt County ensures businesses have access to reliable utility service at the lowest possible cost. These services are provided by Greenville Utilities Commission (GUC).
“We are a local utility, which means the local board is our governing board. It is a requirement that if you serve on our board, you have to be a customer,” says Tony Cannon, General Manager/CEO for GUC. “All excess revenues that we generate are reinvested into the system to ensure opportunities for growth, reliability, and sustainability…We have invested heavily in our electric system. We have transmission and subtransmission loops throughout the system so that most areas are dual-feed areas, which enhances reliability. Our reliability numbers are in the top 10 percent in the nation.”
Site selectors should also note that Pitt County has access to both ground and water transportation. Three major deepwater ports are within a couple of hours of the area, and there is excellent access by highways, although the county is not located on the interstate system. “We are only 30 minutes from I-95, and we are well connected to the road system that runs up and down the coast with Highways 64 and 17, which goes from Wilmington to Norfolk,” Cannon says.
Pitt County, North Carolina
Greenville Utilities Commission (GUC)Greenville Utilities Commission (GUC) is a local utility providing low-cost energy. All excess revenues are are reinvested into the system and reliability numbers are in the top 10 percent in the nation.
Vidant Medical CenterThe regional healthcare hub for eastern North Carolina, Vidant Medical Center owns and operates the majority of healthcare facilities east of I-95 and employs about 19,000 people.
The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University (ECU)The University is an anchor for regional healthcare education infrastructure.
East Carolina Heart Institute at ECUEast Carolina Heart Institute at ECU, in partnership with Vidant, are building a state-of-the-art cancer center.
Pitt Community CollegeThe county is partnering with Pitt Community College to develop STEM programs for students.
Miller-Motte Technical CollegeThe county is partnering with Miller-Motte Technical College to develop STEM programs for students.
East Carolina UniversityThe region has also started actively trying to attract and retain the military to work at companies in the county mostly spearheaded by East Carolina University.
Pitt County also finds itself smack in the middle of the “health belt,” which runs from New York all the way to Atlanta, Georgia. The region is known for its emphasis on the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. “We are the regional healthcare hub for eastern North Carolina. Vidant Medical Center owns and operates the majority of healthcare facilities east of I-95,” Cannon notes. “They employ about 19,000 people. We also have a tremendous number of healthcare professionals in this area.”
With this kind of emphasis on healthcare, education has to play a significant role. The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University (ECU) is an anchor in the education infrastructure. “We also have the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU, and in partnership with Vidant are building a state-of-the-art cancer center. All of that feeds into the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries as well,” Cannon adds.
Pitt County has also established a program for training pharmaceutical workers, with $100,000 from the state of North Carolina invested in the program. “Companies are bringing their people here to do their training,” Cannon says. “We are getting training opportunities from the Research Triangle Park, Charlotte, and the Tide Water areas. And that helps us showcase what we have.”
The region has also started actively trying to attract and retain the military to work at companies in the county. The region is known for its many military facilities. This effort is mostly spearheaded by East Carolina University. “Those people get out of the military and they love this area. They don’t want to leave it, and they need jobs,” Cannon says. “They are a great source of workers for the companies that are looking to hire dependable and trained workers.”
Industrial Park Space Available
Site selectors should also note that Pitt County has developed three industrial parks that are fully serviced. The county plans to fully build out these parks to capacity and then develop additional parks as the need arises. “The property owners want to develop amenities in the park similar to what you see in the larger cities, with walking trails and [other services] for employees,” Cannon explains. “The next step is to not only build out the parks, but to also modernize the parks and make them more employee-centric, so they are more attractive to companies.”
Cannon sums up life in eastern North Carolina: “We have jobs, and people can afford to live here. If I want to go fishing, I can be on salt water in 15 minutes. Or I can be at the beach in an hour or the mountains in two hours. It’s just a great location.”
SCA Group’s Assessment of Pitt County
The Site Consultants Advisory Group (SCAGroup) is a collaborative effort developed between a select group of leading site selection consultants and Area Development magazine. SCAGroup consists of a network of active site consultants whose recent experience involves engagements with many leading industries and corporations.
The initiative was launched on the premise that demand exists within the economic development industry to obtain focused, meaningful feedback from site selectors on specific tactics designed to improve their perceived value proposition.
Recently the SCAGroup worked in conjunction with Pitt County, North Carolina and the Greenville Utilities Commission, and provided observations and recommendations cited below:
- Infrastructure is a leading driver and tends to be one of the most critical location factors for a community to successfully land a project. Greenville needs to focus on its infrastructure strengths and market those directly to targeted users. In fact, the region should seek to position itself as a low-cost alternative to the Research Triangle region.
- A key piece of infrastructure is transportation. While the region does not have direct interstate access, it still has access to three major deepwater ports within 120 miles and a four-lane highway within 38 miles of the major north-south interstate on the Eastern Seaboard.
- Access to abundant, low-cost energy also is an important factor for site selection. An added strength for Pitt County is that the utility, Greenville Utilities, is publicly owned. The ownership structure provides for a cost advantage.
- The continual growth of local pharmaceutical companies, coupled with the educational programming developed by East Carolina University and Pitt Community College, has provided a strong foundation for a bright future in Greenville and Pitt County.
- Another important concept should be the mitigation of risk. Greenville has a number of factors that help to mitigate risk, such as low cost compared to competing markets, low administrative hurdles, and lower construction costs.
- Greenville has some exciting plans to rehabilitate real estate and to encourage innovation and start-ups. Plans to develop strong relationships with the military and local employers — and the high retention rate for graduates in Pitt County (70 percent) — are also exciting. One of the bright spots was the information shared by Pitt Community College regarding its efforts to introduce high school and middle school students (and parents) to what 21st century manufacturing looks like. It is clear that there is tremendous effort within the community to integrate the educational institutions directly into the private sector. This is critically important because as the demand for skilled labor increases, every community must focus on how to continue to evolve the existing workforce.
- The Greenville region has put a lot of effort into creating a strong and viable workforce through the collaborative efforts of East Carolina University, Pitt Community College, and working with local companies to create courses that make the training more applicable for what employers need. Overall, the community embraces the existing life sciences cluster and supports it with logical education-based opportunities.
The above observations and comments were made by SCAGroup consultants Amy Gerber, Executive Vice President, JLL; Brian Corde, Managing Partner, Atlas Insight, LLC; Scott Kupperman, owner, Kupperman Location Solutions; and Bradley Migdal, Executive Managing Director, Transwestern.