Statewide Conference Focuses on Rural Workforce Pipeline

Mary Wilson from EDPNC
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CARY – Local economic developers and civic leaders from counties across North Carolina will gather Oct. 8-9 in Sanford to discuss strategies to retain, attract and develop workforce in the state’s rural communities.

“Companies considering North Carolina consistently say talent is their number one concern when deciding where to locate or grow, or sometimes even remain,” said Christopher Chung, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC).

The EDPNC is presenting the 2019 Energizing Rural North Carolina conference in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, NC Rural Center, North Carolina Economic Development Association, the Golden LEAF Foundation, and the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University.

The event, which is open to media, is being held at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. The presenting sponsor is a group comprising the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, Sanford Tourism Development Authority, City of Sanford, and Lee County.

Conference speakers and case studies will frame rural workforce challenges and opportunities while emphasizing strategies attendees can take home to inspire local workforce development efforts.

“Our presenters will touch on everything from advancing worker education, apprenticeships, housing and health to marketing communities to attract workforce talent,” stated EDPNC board Chairman Frank E. Emory Jr. “It’s a task to tackle on many fronts.”

“Smaller communities need to make sure they have people prepared to fill the jobs being created five to 10 years down the road,” said Alan Wood, president and CEO of Burke Development Inc.

Wood will be part of panel discussing ‘Work in Burke,’ a website and campaign building awareness of local career opportunities and training for young people in rural Burke County, particularly in manufacturing, health and skilled trades. The campaign targets middle- and high-school students, as well as their parents.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary, Anthony M. Copeland, will address attendees at the event, whose speakers and topics include:

Dan Gerlach, interim chancellor at East Carolina University in Greenville, which educates many students from rural Eastern North Carolina. Gerlach will outline workforce issues in rural communities and their impact on economic development.

Peter Hans, president of the North Carolina Community College System.

“Community colleges will play a critical role in our new statewide goal of having 2 million North Carolinians by 2030 with a degree or credential beyond high school,” Hans commented.

Kate McEnroe of Kate McEnroe Consulting, an economic development consulting firm in Chicago. McEnroe will stress how data drives the corporate site selection process.

“When you take an honest look at data that describes your community and you see challenges, the compelling approach is to develop and market your problem-solving skills,” McEnroe stated.

Patience Fairbrother, an account director at New York City-based Development Counsellors International. She will address branding and marketing communities to attract workers open to relocating. Fairbrother’s talent-attraction marketing work includes Cleveland County’s Charlotte’s Backyard website and campaign in North Carolina.

Stuart Gilbert, director of planning and economic development for Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Gilbert will cover approaches to developing workforce housing in smaller communities.

Martin Kegel, fabrications factory manager for Caterpillar Inc. in Sanford, will speak about the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program.

Philip Cooper, a certified peer support specialist at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. He will draw on his own experience successfully re-entering the workforce after prison to explain how to help former offenders or those in recovery from drug abuse navigate into jobs. Cooper, coordinator of the college’s UpSkill WNC program, advocates for returning citizens and educates employers willing to hire them.

Graham County officials will discuss how the county recruited a doctor and opened an urgent care clinic after hospitals said no to the idea. The county is also hiring a paramedic to provide home visits and primary care referrals for the chronically ill who too often rely on emergency room care. Prompted by the opioid crisis, the county is pursuing a peer support specialist to help residents coming out of drug treatment return to the workforce.

“In a mountain community such as Graham County that is geographically isolated, access to health care is key to economic sustainability,” said County Manager, Rebecca Garland.

Visit to learn more about the conference.

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EDPNC Convenes Economic Developers Oct. 8-9

Mary Wilson from EDPNC