Up & Coming Weekly

March 26, 2019

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 14 of 32

14 UCW MARCH 27-APRIL 2, 2019 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM What's the story on local economic development? by STEPHANIE CRIDER COVER STORY e Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic De- velopment Corporation is a relatively new organization at just three years old. From partnerships to innovation to vision, this organization, along with its partners and the community, is bringing new ideas, development and dollars to Cumberland County and its municipalities. In 2018, FCEDC announced 750 new jobs from Campbell Soup Company and Booz Allen Hamilton, bringing $12.5 million in new investment to the com- munity. Under its watch, downtown has seen more than $130 million in public and private investment, and a $37 million, 4,800-seat Astros A+ Minor League Stadium is nearing completion. e Fayetteville Re- gional Airport has seen $35 million in renovation, and a $12.6 million investment has delivered a state-of-the- art FAST Public Transportation Center, which operates seven days a week. Downtown is also now home to e CORE, an innovation corridor that connects talent, assets and re- sources and encourages innovation and entrepreneur- ship. ese are just a few of the successes the FCEDC has played a part in. To hear Robert Van Geons tell it, these successes are all about teamwork, and this is just the beginning. Up & Coming Weekly recently interviewed Van Geons to hear more of his thoughts on the topic. Up & Coming Weekly: What is the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corpora- tion and why is it important? Robert Van Geons: We were established about three years ago. We're a public-private partnership funded by the county, the city and the private sector, with the city and county being our biggest funders. We are a nonprof- it, and our job is to help companies that are here grow and to attract new businesses to Cumberland County to create jobs and bring investment to our community. UCW: It seems like there are probably some chal- lenges that come with that. Van Geons: We are a one-stop shop for economic development. We do everything from sites and build- ings to marketing and promotion to existing industry support grants to incentives to working with the devel- opment community. is works because we have a lot of support from our elected leaders in the city and the county. We work well with the towns within the county, and the private sec- tor has been incredibly supportive. … With their help, we're starting to make some strides. At the end of the day, if this is successful, we are only a small part of it. It's companies that make the invest- ments. It's the property owners that sell the land or the buildings. It's the local officials that approve the incen- tives. It's the citizens that show up to work. We're the piece that tries to bring them all together. UCW: What do you think are some of the commu- nity's strongest assets? Van Geons: Our people are our best asset. Addition- ally, we have a handful of really great attributes in this community. We have the youngest workforce in the Carolinas. We're affordable as a place to do business and as a place to live. We are internationally diverse, with I think it's 82 languages in our schools from 86 countries. And we are accessible. We are right along I-95. We have an airport and access to the Raleigh airport. We are near the deep-water ports in Wilmington. And we have both Class 1 rail providers and shortline rail in our community. It's our people. It's our location. It's really the quality of our overall business environment. ose are our strengths. UCW: How have Fayetteville and Cumberland County grown in the last three to five years? Van Geons: We've had some recent announcements over the last few years and some exciting developments … but overall, I think we would be right to say that our community hasn't grown as much or as quickly as we would like. And it's something that we're trying to build on the momentum of late. Recently, we've seen the Campbell's Soup project in Cedar Creek, the $150 million-plus projects being built downtown, the completion of the work being done on I-295, the widening of I-95, the Booze Allen (Hamilton) announcements and more. So, we are building momentum. We've seen a lot of our vacant industrial space filled, and we have people look- ing to build new. However, we've seen relatively slow growth for the decade or so prior. Our towns are stepping up and investing in their communities as well — from Spring Lake to Hope Mills. We are working with Falcon and Godwin, and all the towns, on economic development efforts and strategies. at's one thing our organization has as a priority — working collaboratively across all of Cumberland County. Just last week we had a meeting with representatives from all of the towns to talk about their individual eco- nomic development goals. We've been meeting with them individually since I arrived, and this was a time for us to bring them all together. We're going to keep doing it every other month or so. And we're doing some work around our airport, as well, and then looking at multi-modal transportation and development. ere's no single answer to being successful. It's going to take the multi-dimensional approach. UCW: Do you think we will see some changes in the next five to 10 years? Van Geons: Absolutely, I do. I think we're going to see continued to growth in technology fields, with companies like a ACLC and World- wide Language Resources as exam- ples, here in our downtown. Next-generation companies doing cyber security, virtual reality and distance learning are all going to be keys to that, and so we're launch- ing e CORE innovation center here. We're seeing private sector developers, both locally and from well outside of our region, considering Cumberland County for new speculative development. e downtown project is transforming the way people think about our community. People are seeing and recognizing the economic potential and are start- ing to look at us with fresh eyes. We are hosting inves- tors from Washington, D.C., and New York and Chicago and around the southeast frequently here. People are recognizing us as a great growth op- portunity in a state that is growing. We don't prosper alone in North Carolina. e momentum built by cities like Charlotte and Raleigh and Durham rubs off on us. We're looking to leverage that. UCW: How do you get different businesses and organizations to work together for the greater good and a better future? Van Geons: When talking about where we were to where we are, have we always been as collaborative as we should be? Probably not — in the past. But it is a new time here, and the city and county are working well together on economic development. And now we've got, as an example, nine organiza- Robert Van Geons

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