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Moore County Seeing More Interest, Growth

Moore County has become a popular place to visit, live and do business. It ranked as the seventh fastest-growing county in the state in 2022.

Natalie Hawkins, president of Moore County Economic Development Partnership (MCEDP), spoke to members of the TriCities group, which comprises Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst, about the county’s economy.

The Pinehurst-Southern Pines micropolitan has ranked first as the strongest micropolitan in the state for the sixth year in a row. It is within the top seven percent nationally of communities with a stable and consistently growing economy.

Moore County also ranked 10th in the state for its tourism economy in 2021. New numbers expected to be released in coming weeks are expected to confirm a strengthening of that position.

State demographers with the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management have projected the population to increase to over 147,000 in 2040 and 170,000 in 2050. Growth in Moore County is concentrated around Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst. Hawkins said the three towns comprise less than 10 percent of the land mass in the county but account for about 42 percent of the population.

Hawkins said over 60 percent of 33,000 private sector jobs fall into three categories: healthcare, accommodation and food services and retail. The healthcare field makes up 33 percent alone.

New Prospects Grow

And these areas are continuing to expand. Hawkins said the developing Target shopping center in Southern Pines will add another 500 jobs across different sectors. She called it a “significant addition to the retail market.”

Southern Pines Town Manager Reagan Parsons said the town has received phase-two plans for the shopping center, which includes a BJs Wholesale Club and Starbucks on the other side of the developing parkway.

Hawkins also said healthcare is in “expansion mode” with the new FirstHealth Cancer Center and Morganton Park North campus.

Hawkins said MCEDP has been responding to an increased number of business leads. Leads are businesses “actively” looking to expand or find a site.

The organization received 87 leads last fiscal year and 71 leads the year before. Hawkins said the average number of leads previously was 40 in one year. The MCEDP has responded to 14 leads since the start of July, and if that pace continues, it could mean over 200 by the end of the fiscal year.

Most of the leads are for manufacturing businesses, but Hawkins said it’s shifting with some interests in arts and entertainment, hotels, recreation and engineering firms.

Outside Influences

Hawkins also pointed to manufacturing projects outside of Moore County that will impact the economy, namely: the Toyota electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant under construction in Liberty; the Wolfspeed silicon carbide chip fabrication plant planned for Siler City; and the VinFast electric vehicle production plant in Moncure, which broke ground last week. Those projects, about a $14.6 billion investment, are expected to bring more than 11,000 jobs to the region.

All three projects are within an hour of Moore County and an easy commute for possible workers. And that doesn’t count any ancillary suppliers for those factories that might want to locate operations here.

Hawkins sees these influences as an opportunity to further workforce development programs at Sandhills Community College.

“These are some advanced manufacturing positions, very high paying, high skill jobs that they’re going to have in these plants,” Hawkins said.

Key Priorities Restated

Hawkins said the key priorities for economic development are land use planning, infrastructure investments, buildings and site development, workforce development, workforce housing and entrepreneurship support.

Hawkins considers the Pinehurst, Aberdeen, and Southern Pines as leaders in land planning, and their land use maps help guide MCEDP by seeing what the towns want and where to direct businesses.

(Original article by Ana Risano, The Pilot)

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