Statewide development summit to promote rural NC

Experts and economic developers from across the state will discuss the pillars of rural prosperity and future growth at first-time event

Chickens feed from a row of feed bins at C&A Farms in Fairmont, North Carolina, a rural town in Robeson County. Fairmont was known as the "biggest little tobacco market in the world" in the 1950s, but since the decline of tobacco, local farmers have had to cultivate other cash crops, as Robeson county relies on some state and federal economic development grants. REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo

RTP/PINEHURST – Local economic developers and civic leaders from more than 65 counties in North Carolina will be gathering at the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst this weekend, July 12-13, to discuss approaches to supporting five building blocks necessary for rural communities to capitalize on the state’s economic momentum.

According to a press release from The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), the conference, “Energizing Rural North Carolina: The Building Blocks of Successful Economic Development,” will explore how infrastructure, workforce, education, health and leadership shape economic outcomes in rural communities.


Gov. Roy Cooper, state Sen. Harry Brown and state Rep. Jason Saine are scheduled to speak at the conference, which is open to registered participants and invited media. The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) is presenting the conference with the support of the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the NC Rural Center, the Golden LEAF Foundation, the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Economic Development Association.

“I see the EDPNC’s role in this event as a convener,” said Frank E. Emory Jr., chairman of the EDPNC Board of Directors, “bringing rural stakeholders together to look at these five building blocks through a lens focused sharply on their impact on economic development.”

Local economic developers from all 100 North Carolina counties, including the 80 defined as rural by the N.C. Rural Center, were invited, each asked to bring local influencers who can effect change in their communities. Economic developers attending are from counties ranging in size from Tyrrell (population 4,000-plus) in northeast North Carolina to Forsyth, the state’s fourth-most populous county. Western-most counties represented include Graham, Cherokee and Clay.

The event will examine how infrastructure, workforce support, education, health outcomes and leadership can contribute to long-term economic development results including employment growth, new business establishments, higher household income and greater economic output. Participants will hear from subject-matter experts and local leaders who have had success within each of the five building blocks, then break out into roundtable discussions about assets, needs and possible strategies within their own rural communities.

The featured main speakers within each building block include:

  • Catherine Truitt, chancellor of the online Western Governors University North Carolina and former education policy adviser, examining K-12 challenges in rural communities.
  • Nathan Ramsey, director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board serving Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties, addressing how rural communities can better align education and on-the-job learning to help grow existing workforce talent.
  • Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, discussing why communities investing in sites and other infrastructure must have a clear vision of what business development will result.
  • Margaret Sauer, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services’ office of rural health, stressing the interconnectedness of community health, education and economic development and how broadband can advance all three in rural communities.
  • Patrick Woodie, president and chief executive officer of the NC Rural Center, addressing the importance of building local leadership capacity, drawing upon the center’s nearly 30 years of training rural leaders.

Other presentation highlights include:

  • A Roanoke Electric Cooperative project expected to provide access to high-speed internet to seven underserved rural northeastern North Carolina counties.
  • Rutherford County Schools’ providing one-to-one digital learning devices to each of its 8,500 students as part of a broader plan to improve K-12 outcomes.
  • The Wilson Academy of Applied Technology, a high school centered around advanced manufacturing technologies and supported by area manufacturers needing those skills.
  • A plan by Duke University family medicine to train more residents in rural North Carolina hospitals, because residency locations influence where doctors remain to practice.
  • McDowell County’s WorkFORCE Wellness program that brings diverse local health resources directly into worksites.
  • Andrew Davis, bestselling author of “TOWN INC.,” who visited 54 towns and cities over three years to discover why some thrive while others struggle.

Sponsors of this first-time event for the EDPNC are North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, First Bank and the North Carolina Bankers Association.