As a private, not-for-profit, economic development agency serving 28 counties in eastern North Carolina, we are dedicated to improving the capacity of our region to sustain and attract companies that will create quality jobs for our residents. In doing so, we often advocate for actions/activities that will improve the condition of our region – supporting sensible education initiatives is high on our list. Several months ago, our Board of Directors approved a resolution in support of the ConnectNC bond referendum. We revisited this decision recently, after the legislature approved a $2 Billion bond issue that did not include funds for transportation projects; our board unanimously endorsed the action of our legislature to move forward with a bond issue supporting critically needed investments in higher education, clean water systems, and our state parks system. The legislature’s decision to reduce the magnitude of the bond issue, eliminating the transportation component, was a result of their action to end the practice of transferring money from the Highway Trust Fund to the general fund, freeing an additional $216 Million each year (that’s more than $2 Billion over the next decade); a huge step towards improving our connectivity. We have lost many jobs over the past decade as a result of global shifts in manufacturing, but we are experiencing significant growth in STEM-related manufacturing jobs such as aerospace, life sciences, motor vehicle parts, value-added agriculture (food, wood products) as well as health care and financial services. The life science sector, for example, includes several biopharmaceutical companies located east of Raleigh that announced expansions totaling over $2 Billion in the past 2 years that will result in nearly 2,000 new jobs. These expansions will also drive job creation by their suppliers which exist in small cities and towns deep within eastern NC – Ahoskie, Battleboro, Washington, Kinston, New Bern, Elizabeth City and several others. Many of our major employers also have an aging workforce that will be retiring over the next 5 or so years. Our community colleges and universities play an oversized role in providing the technical talent needed by these employers, not only in educating the next generation, but in retraining adults that have lost jobs and need to improve their knowledge and skills to qualify for new economy jobs. The $200+ million of bond proceeds slated for eastern NC universities and community colleges will allow these institutions to build, renovate and equip new science and other facilities needed to meet current student needs. We urge voters in our region to support our businesses and the ConnectNC bond package by voting ‘yes’ on March 15 in recognition that this as an investment in our people and our future success.
John D. Chaffee, President & CEO, NCEast Alliance