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Moore County Seeing Record Number of Business Leads

The Moore County Economic Development Partnership (MCEDP) has seen a record number of businesses interested in coming to or expanding in Moore County over the last year.

Natalie Hawkins, president of the MCEDP, said the amount of interest has been “unbelievable.”

The organization saw 72 leads by the end of its last reporting period, “which is double the highest recorded number of new business leads received in the first six months of any fiscal year in the organization’s 20-year history,” according to a statement.

Between July and December 2023, most of the leads were for manufacturing facilities. About 40 percent of leads were for a project under 100,000 square feet.

Hawkins named a couple of factors impacting the high amount of interest, including more leads coming from the state and direct referrals.

She said many of the ones coming from the state relate to the big manufacturing plants under development just north of Moore County. She said multiple suppliers of those factories have looked at Moore County to develop facilities.

Construction is underway for the Toyota electric vehicle battery plant in Liberty, the Wolfspeed silicon carbide chip fabrication plant in Siler City and the VinFast electric vehicle production plant in Moncure. Those projects, about $14.6 billion in investment, are expected to bring more than 11,000 jobs to the region.

But Hawkins said the organization has also seen a “very steady increase in the number of direct inquiries and referrals.” She thinks it’s in part because the MCEDP is more widely known and because more people in Moore County are looking to expand their businesses.

She said she’s gotten inquiries from Nevada to Greensboro. Of the 72 leads received, she said MCEDP was able to respond to 30 with suitable properties. Many were smaller projects, with requests for 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of space.

When asked how many people have chosen Moore County for their business, she said, “We have several projects in the works.”

She said it also helps that North Carolina was named America’s Top State for Business by the national business cable channel CNBC in 2023. The state also held that title in 2022.

Hawkins said to date, the organization already surpassed 90 leads, putting the MCEDP on track for “more than three times traditional levels” by the end of the reporting year. Before the pandemic, she said the annual number of leads was 40.

“I don’t expect it to slow down,” Hawkins said. “I don’t see the demand tapering off much and what I am probably the most proud of is the steep increase in the direct inquiries and referrals. … Moore County, our economy, is strong because it’s so diversified. We have a lot of small businesses driving the economy.”

She later added that direct referrals feel more “organic” because people are actively searching for and wanting to be in Moore County.

The MCEDP also acquired the 73-acre Iron Horse Industrial Park in Aberdeen at the end of 2023. It is Moore County’s first publicly controlled industrial site.

Work is underway to make the location more enticing to developers, with the MCEDP taking steps to construct an access road, timber about 56 acres and grade 15 acres.

The MCEDP is also looking at multiple sites across the county for developing business parks. Two sites were identified with “high development potential” by the N.C. Southeast Partnership’s Large Site Identification Analysis.

The sites are located along the N.C. 22 corridor and between 235 and 320 acres. Hawkins said when searching for sites, the MCEDP looks at the availability of utilities, surrounding land uses and environmental restraints.

“Until we get land locked up under public control or ownership, … we are just spinning our wheels.”

She later clarified that the organization is looking for sites suitable for smaller-scale developments, unlike the Iron Horse property, which is meant for heavy industry.

Part of the organization’s work is also to find ways to make a site more enticing to a developer, which could include things like building an access road on the Iron Horse property or creating a “shell” building.

Hawkins said the organization is looking into a shell building program that would involve developers creating an unfinished, hence shell, building. She said a few local developers have reached out to MCEDP about it.

The MCEDP has been selected by the N.C. Economic Development Association for a fellow, who would join them for the summer and research the success of starting such a program.

(Article by Ana Risano, The Pilot)

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