Diverse Economy Is One of County's Big Assets
From creative entrepreneurship to traditional resources, Moore County enjoys an economic diversity envied by surrounding counties.
And now may be a good time to nurture and encourage that at-home diversity.
The county commissioners had an opportunity to examine that diversity during their Jan. 19-20 business retreat at the Senior Resource Center. The retreat is held annually to guide county officials in preparation of the new budget.
“We’re actually advocates for more diversity,” said Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, on the final day of the retreat.
Miles said Moore County can do more to attract traditional industry and to lure more military families to the area.
A day earlier, Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress, reminded the board that Moore County must not take its vast retirement community for granted.
“This is a great place to retire,” Corso said.
Retirees contribute economically and culturally to the community, but they die or move to other areas because of failing health. And for these reasons, he said, Moore County needs to continue to promote its benefits for retirees.
And Moore County native John Parker introduced an innovative concept of creative entrepreneurship.
Parker, whose firm, Good Work, is based in Raleigh, said there is a need to encourage the creation of jobs, not just to train people for jobs.
“It’s been said that I teach people how to fish, but it takes more than learning how to fish,” Parker said. “People also need access to the pond.”
Parker said North Carolina needs to encourage its residents to develop business here at home, thus keeping the profits at home, rather than sending the biggest part of the profits to a large corporation based in another state. North Carolina has more than 800,000 small businesses, but only about 175,000 of those businesses actually have employees, he reported.
The federal government identifies a small business as having fewer than 500 employees. Parker said a business with that many employees is “still pretty large” in the eyes of the average person.
Parker agreed that the community should continue to attract businesses hiring a work force of 200, but said there is a strong need to attract small businesses hiring 10 people.
“Moore County obviously is a sweet place,” Parker said. “It really is a jewel.”
He added that “North Carolina has a vibrant community as it relates to entrepreneurship.”
Parker said this can be accomplished through collaboration, partnership and a new vision.
“Let’s harness our strengths and our assets,” he said. “Let’s invest in our assets.”
Parker’s parents operated Parker Hardware in downtown Southern Pines for many years. He recalled working there as a teen and picking up a solid work ethic.
“Even if I worked for my father, it kept me out of trouble and taught me work skills,” he said.
His father, the late Tony Parker, served two terms on the Moore County Board of Commissioners. The elder Parker was noted for his knowledge of county history and culture. His mother still lives in Southern Pines.
In his presentation, Corso actually described an unexpected dilemma in the local employment picture.
Corso said plant managers are telling him of difficulty finding skilled personnel, such as machinists and maintenance workers. He said plant managers report that they are hiring from other counties because Moore County lacks workers with these skills.
Corso said he has already discussed this issue with Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, and Dempsey is considering calling a summit of industries and college leaders to determine how best to meet these training needs. Corso added that flexibility is one of the major attributes of the community college system.
In addition to focusing on shoring up the retirement community, Corso called attention to several other areas of the economy that need a sharp focus.
Agribusiness, especially sustainable agriculture, is one of those areas of emphasis. Corso said many traditional farmers are aging out, but a younger generation has been slow to pick up the slack.
One of the fastest-growing aspects of the new agriculture scene was described as sustainable agriculture, such as the popular Farm to Table program and food cooperatives.
Although Moore County has never recruited retail business, Corso said the community has become “a retail hub by accident.” This is another area that can be enhanced.
Corso called attention to a need for a performing arts center. He commended Pinehurst for exploring the feasibility of such a center and said that “culture is a third leg on our stool.”
The medical field is another area that cannot be taken for granted, he said. Corso said the county cannot assume that FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital will always “be ours.” He noted areas, such as research, that could be enhanced to keep the medical community strong.
“We need to make sure the medical community stays here and grows,” Corso said.
Regionalism and the Moore County Airport were also mentioned as significant economic areas that should be nurtured.
“The airport is a very, very important aspect of our economy,” Corso said.
A day later Caleb Miles, the tourism chief, told the commissioners that business improved during 2011, when lodging statistics picked up for the first time since 2008, the year the economy went into a tailspin.
Visitor spending climbed to about $342 million in 2010, making Moore County’s position slightly better than the statewide average. Local visitor spending dropped below $325 million in 2009 after reaching a high of $350 million in 2008. Moore County is rated 11th among North Carolina’s 100 counties when it comes to visitor spending.
Miles described visitor spending as expenditures other than the cost of lodging, such as shopping, food and entertainment, while staying in Moore County.
The effect of golf on real estate values (also tax assessments) is another significant factor, and he presented a chart showing a dramatic difference between value of golf community acreage and the average acreage of other properties.
Target date for several major developments is June 2014, when the county will host back-to-back U.S. Open and Women’s Open championships. These developers are aware that a million visitors can be expected to pour into the area, and they want to tap into that reservoir, according to Miles.
“All of them want to be ready by 2014,” he said. “They want to be able to showcase what they have by then.”
Miles presented an optimistic picture of the CVB’s partnership with the Moore County Airport, which is sharing a percentage of the room occupancy tax for the first time this year. He has received regular updates on airport operations from the Airport Authority.
Improvements recently initiated at the airport are needed by the 2014 championship tournaments, he said. Miles added that the runway improvements are needed and will be helpful by the 2014 target date.
Looking at the previous year, Miles mentioned the World Series of Dixie Youth Baseball as a highlight. The event drew thousands of visitors to Hillcrest Park, the county’s only park facility.
“The word is out that it is a great facility,” Miles said.
Asked by the commissioners about the economic effect of tourism on the county, Miles said they need only look at such statistics as sales taxes in neighboring counties to determine that tourism, along with the medical/health industry, is a driving force in the economy here.
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