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Discovery Phase I Completed on Countywide Strategic Plan

What is the best way to take advantage of the dynamic changes that are underway while maintaining the area’s charm and quality of life? These are weighty questions that a new countywide community and economic development strategic plan seeks to answer.

Partners in Progress (PIP) is spearheading this effort and have contracted with The Hayes Group to complete a four-phased approach for creating and implementing a specific plan of action. The Duke Energy Foundation, in addition to the Randolph, Central and Pee Dee Electric Membership Corporations, contributed funds for the initial two phases of the project, and Partners was awarded a $25,000 grant from the Palmer Foundation, which provided the remainder of the funding needed to complete the plan.

The ultimate goal of the plan is to stimulate new opportunities brought about by changing demographics and Moore County’s shifting economy. Phase one included in-depth interviews with 68 business and community leaders, and a public survey that attracted over 1,000 participants. The second, third and fourth phases of plan development include crafting a vision and mission statement, establishing priorities, and leading implementation of the plan with performance measures in place.

“There is a lack of consensus in direction. Northern Moore needs more defined possibilities, and southern Moore is facing challenges with growth, with how to sustain its character, and the influx of the military,” said Charles Hayes, managing partner of The Hayes Group. “These are some of the major issues and challenges for planning.”

Hayes served as the executive director of Partners in Progress for 10 years and later was president of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. On Tuesday, he presented results of the study’s discovery phase with his associate, Dan Parks. Parks was previously affiliated with N.C. State University’s Industry Expansion Solutions division, and has led strategic economic development initiatives and strategic plan development for over 20 counties.

Statistics provided by the state’s Department of Commerce demonstrate how much the area has changed over the last decade. Employment in the health care and social assistance fields are up 17 percent locally; accommodations and food service work is up 19 percent; conversely, construction employment is down 38 percent; and arts, entertainment and recreation work is down 20 percent.

“The takeaway is this: If we don’t diversify, we are in trouble,” Parks said.

In simple terms, economic development can be accomplished in one of three ways: Create it through entrepreneurship; retain and grow it by supporting existing businesses; and recruit it by attracting new businesses.

“We want to get to some desired future position, and we understand there are a lot of current pressures and a lot of current issues,” Parks said. “We are almost ready to move into phase two, where we will take the information from the interviews, survey and empirical research to begin developing strategies. We are looking for high return strategies that will maximize our assets. The question is, how do we organize our priorities to get the highest return? We can’t do it all.”

The initial strategic discussions narrowed down the list of opportunities to those that optimize and build on the area’s strengths. These recommendations included engaging more health care and related business development — in essence, to make Moore County a health care destination — and to encourage military-related business enterprises.

Proximity to Fort Bragg and a strong military population make Moore County a logical location for a “defense cluster,” Hayes said, noting there are 22 local businesses with active Department of Defense contracts.

Other opportunities that were called out as positive economic drivers include resources provided by Sandhills Community College; encouraging a tourism “nexus” that would stretch from Pinehurst, through northern Moore, to the N.C. Zoo; and more emphasis on agribusiness opportunities and maximizing the region’s golfing brand.

Board member Mike Gorenflo, who also currently chairs the Moore Chamber of Commerce board, encouraged Hayes and Parks to include western Moore County’s pottery heritage. During discussion, Parks said that arts, intellectual pursuits and the creative economy were included in the plan and agreed they are strong contributing factors to the overall high quality of life enjoyed by residents.

“How do we tell our story? There is a good effort by Moore Alive to tell the story, but how can we tell the new story of all of Moore County? We want to maintain our charm, and it is important that we don’t lose what we have for the sake of growth,” Parks said.

“A long-term barrier has been that there is no clear vision for economic development. We want to find common ground with a strategic plan. This is the kind of of effort we need to create a collective dialogue, vision and planning.”

Hayes said Moore County is at a crucial point. He emphasized the need to invest in economically distressed areas and for the county to learn to see itself as one entity. In doing so, this would help close the gap between the northern and southern portions. Specifically, Hayes called on elected officials to come together to collaborate and communicate.

“We are all in this together,” he said. “We need to find common ground, and know what is good and happening across Moore County. We must take a broad view of economic development to create a vision. Market pressures are moving at a speed that can outstrip what we are doing if we are not careful.”

In the public survey results, he noted that 93 percent of respondents agreed that different economic development strategies are needed for different parts of the county.

The county’s population is steadily increasing at a rate of about 1.5 percent per year, and the area hosts approximately 1.2 million annual visitors. Most retail and residential developments are clustered in the county’s southern end — along with accompanying concerns about traffic, transportation and infrastructure concerns — with new businesses and subdivisions popping up in quick succession. Meanwhile, in the northern stretches, poverty and lack of job opportunities are more commonplace, while access to capital and opportunities for state-funded grants have become harder to come by.

Asked to peer 15 years into the future, survey respondents said they wanted Moore County to be known for its strong educational system, as an excellent place to raise a family, for its environmentally savvy communities, and preserving its unique, historical charm while still being competitive for business interests.

“Preserving what we have is a whole lot more important than going after what we don’t have,” said SCC President John Dempsey, who also serves on the Partners board. “Growth is outstripping our ability to manage it. I am glad to see this emphasis on maintaining what we have.

“We do not have the mountains, and we don’t have a beach. What we have around here is cute, and we can lose cute in a skinny minute if we are not careful.”

(Story courtesy of The Pilot 5/11/17)

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