Economic and Workforce Development through Collaboration with Allied Partners

Beaufort County, NC
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Beaufort County Economic Development (BCED) was created in 2013 to facilitate the creation of new employment and increase business activity while encouraging the development of more advanced manufacturing in the area.
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Beaufort County is part of the Greenville-Washington Combined Statistical Area, an area of over 220,000 people with a workforce of over 110,000. This includes East Carolina University (ECU), with 30,000 students, and Vidant Medical Center, the third-largest Level I trauma center in the nation and a teaching hospital.

North Carolina was one of the original Thirteen British Colonies in the United States and this heritage remains a large part of eastern North Carolina’s culture. This year in Bath, the oldest town in North Carolina, incorporated in 1705, residents celebrated the 300th anniversary of the death of Edward Teach, better known as the pirate Blackbeard.

Beaufort County was founded in 1712 and its location along the Pamlico River at the time was ideal for the transportation of supplies. “Beaufort County has evolved out of the 1700s colonial trading port of Bath into an international center for the production of air filtration and containment products, plastic components, aerospace equipment, retail display furniture and fixtures, boats and yachts, service and emergency vehicles, phosphate and phosphoric acid, agricultural grain crops, and metalworking,” says Beaufort County Economic Development Director Martyn B. Johnson.

A hidden gem, Beaufort County and its county seat of Washington has more coastline than any other county in North Carolina, which is a great asset, yet it can pose its own challenges. The county is the only one bisected east west by the Tar-Pamlico River that flows into the Pamlico Sound resulting in transportation challenges for residents. Transportation across the river includes two bridges on the western end and a ferry ride of thirty minutes at the eastern end of the county. Approximately 81 percent of the population resides on the northern side of the river. Providing students with educational opportunities not limited by their geographical location is an ongoing financial struggle which is faced by the Beaufort County School Board each year.

“As technology improves, we want our workforce and population to keep in line with this trend and to become a part of the global economy,” says Martyn. The BCED is looking to increase the tax base and also create a sustainable economy for future growth. “We need to start growing now and it looks like the economy is offering us the opportunity to do so as long as the national economy keeps on track.” The BCED helps to develop existing businesses and new businesses that increase industrial diversity to avoid the negative impacts of the changing individual sectors.

The BCED works with a team of local, regional and state partners to spread the news about Beaufort County nationally and internationally to showcase programs and benefits to business of locating in the area. It collaborates with numerous organizations including the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, Beaufort County Committee of 100, Beaufort County School District, Beaufort County Community College, NCWorks Beaufort County, East Carolina University, NCEast Alliance, Golden LEAF Foundation, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, Mid-East Commission, Region Q Workforce Development Board and the NC Department of Commerce to name a few.

With the assistance of its economic development allies, the BCED encourages economic growth by maintaining three industrial parks, a skills and incubator center and an industry-ready building. A sub-committee of the Business Advisory Council visits advanced manufacturers to determine the needs of individual businesses. These visits apprise business leaders of the many programs available to them as incentives to skill up their current workforce or increase the number of people hired at local facilities.

The subcommittee communicates with the rest of the economic development partners to implement changes that are beneficial to the local business climate and meet employer needs. It is particularly important in smaller areas for organizations to work together to improve the economy. “K-12 education is the more long-term approach of how to get a good workforce, and the community college, customized training, and NCWorks programs provide more immediate triage for businesses to get employees in the door,” says Wendy Petteway of Beaufort County Schools.

The Beaufort County school system shifted its focus by showing students that a four-year college degree may not necessarily be the best option for everyone. In the past, many students chose to leave for four-year degrees and lacked skills needed to be successful in an advanced manufacturing environment. The school system aims to ensure that current students know they can choose to stay close to home and create a successful life in the place they grew up if they choose to do so. “We know that we have to grow our own because people from large cities may not find country life to their liking, but the people who are from here love the nature, the beauty and the ease of living that exists here,” says Wendy.

“In my generation, we were browbeaten to get a four-year degree, and a lot of us were getting it in sociology or English, and then you get into the real world, and if you’re not going to teach, you don’t know what to do with that. We want to turn these students more towards going to a two-year degree and getting a technical associates degree,” says Sara Watson, Director of Customized Training and Apprenticeships at Beaufort County Community College.

Students have the option to pursue more education after those two years or start working right away. There are various educational pathways and students are learning that they can always return to school later in life. This has opened more minds to lifelong learning rather than rushing to complete a bachelor’s degree right out of high school.

By communicating directly with local businesses, the economic development groups can determine what skills are required in the workforce, which allows them to make important decisions about such things as changing the school curriculum. The groups also help to prove to funding agencies that certain skills are needed. “A lot of our work is working with both the businesses and potential employees to make the demand and the supply match,” says Martyn.

Approximately 6,700 students are in the Beaufort County school system and roughly 4,000 of them take a Career and Technical Education class each year in grade six through grade twelve. “We have had a good success rate with getting industry credentials to our kids; so when they walk out the door, they have things like the National Career Readiness Certificate under their belt. They take those tests as seniors and can present it to businesses,” says Wendy. The schools provide Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certificates and other industry recognized certifications to interested students and teach vital soft skills.

The BCED helps to develop specific programs that are targeted to assist groups such as veterans, the disabled, the homeless, farmworkers and the recently incarcerated. It offers a two-week boot camp program to help people enter or re-enter the workforce based on the needs of the local manufacturing companies. The attendees benefit from the OSHA certification, interview skills classes and résumé writing classes.

On the last day of the boot camp, four of the five manufacturing companies involved with the program visit to perform some speed interviews. “At the very end, all of the people who have successfully completed the two-week program will have a chance to sit and interview with these companies and potentially get a job out of it,” says Sara. The purpose of the program is to supply the demand for employees that businesses have from the available resources.

Nonprofit Golden LEAF Foundation was created in 1999 to receive half of the funds going to North Carolina from the settlement agreement with cigarette manufacturers. The other half of the funds was dedicated to healthcare issues related to smoking. The foundation uses those funds to make economic development grants around the state through a regional initiative to reach every county in North Carolina. Beaufort County put in an application to the Community-Based Grantsmaking Initiative (CBGI) to enhance the quality of life of its residents, particularly through providing a centrally located academy focused on area workforce needs.

“In Beaufort, our school board has been adamant that just because of where a student lives, it should not dictate what they have access to educationally,” says Wendy. Beaufort is asking for $1.5 million to do some renovations and create a centrally located educational academy to serve as a hub for businesses’ workforce efforts. The campus would be in the heart of Washington, North Carolina, and would provide students and adults with opportunities to enhance their skills.

Beaufort has a laidback atmosphere with a small-town charm, yet its proximity to Greenville, North Carolina gives residents access to all the amenities a larger city can offer. The low cost of living and high quality of life make it a place to which people want to return after experiencing the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle. “The beautiful waterfront and abundance of recreational activities is a major attraction. The lack of traffic congestion makes for a less stressful commute to work and shopping. Driving to the ocean takes only 1.5 hours and there is an abundance of nature just minutes from the downtown area,” says Martyn.

Beaufort County provides its residents many opportunities to make a great life for themselves and their families. “My vision for the future is to make it so the people who are native to this area don’t have to leave to feel successful in life. They can acquire a good living here and live the lifestyle that they have grown up to love,” says Wendy.

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