Editorial: Revival of $272-million CSX hub will boost eastern N.C. economy
Posted July 20, 2016
-- $272 million CSX hub will bring much-needed jobs and investment to eastern N.C.
-- After botched effort in Johnston County, local leaders in Edgecombe and Nash counties launched a credible and professional outreach to CSX.
-- Community support appears to have been secured before project announcement.
-- Is our state’s economic development program “broken” or are some just not devoted to making it work?
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A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, July 20, 2016; Editorial# 8031
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
The timeline could be a tale of miraculous resurrection. In fact, the announced revival Tuesday of the once-left-for-dead CSX transportation hub in eastern North Carolina, was about determination and the work of skilled, tried-true economic development professionals. The Carolina Connector project announced by Gov. Pat McCrory, which appears to have strong local support, will be located near Rocky Mount.
In mid-January, an ebullient McCrory announced that the hub would be located in Johnston County. Two weeks later, after an avalanche of protests and bitter opposition from landowners and residents in the area who claimed to have been blind-sided and bullied, McCrory declared the project in Johnston County dead – or no better than on life support. McCrory and his economic development apparatus were dejected and embarrassed.
That’s about the time that Norris Tolson, head of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership – the public-private economic development agency for Nash and Edgecombe counties -- sprang into action. Tolson, a former state Commerce Secretary and legislator, had recently retired as CEO of the N.C. Biotechnology Center and taken over as head of the partnership.
On his own initiative, he called executives with CSX. Might there be a location in the Nash-Edgecombe county area that could fit their needs for a hub? Tolson and the CSX execs met, reviewed two sites, and one seemed to fit the railroad’s needs.
Tolson instinctively knew that securing the rights to the land was critical and that it would be best if that were done locally. He told CSX officials that Carolinas Gateway would take care of securing options to the property for the project. By the end of May, the agency reported to CSX that it had secured options on a total of about 700 acres. The project was back on.
While the governor was front-and-center at Tuesday’s announcement, the array of officials sitting on the front row at the Dunn Center on the N.C. Wesleyan College campus reflected the kind of broad community and leadership consensus it takes to make economic development successful. That row included a powerhouse of state leaders with deep Rocky Mount and eastern North Carolina roots -- former Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner and Democratic Gov. Mike Easley – both Rocky Mount natives, Gov. Jim Hunt, from Wilson, and Rocky Mount resident, Attorney General Roy Cooper. There was a bipartisan gaggle of state legislators, too.
In an area of the state where unemployment is at epidemic levels and economic investment is stagnant, the $272 million project, with 250 to 300 construction jobs and another 150 permanent jobs, is a huge boost. The ripple effect of the hub that will provide a critical shipping link to the state’s ports could result in as many as 1,500 jobs around the state.
In short order, the state’s $100 million investment for rail and infrastructure improvements along with a Job Development Investment Grant for job creation, will start to pay off and spur further economic growth in the region.
McCrory repeatedly complains that he inherited a “broken” economic development system. But if he and his economic development team are truthful, they’d look at this important success and recognize its roots are in the effective engine he inherited. Rather than bash those efforts, he would be wise to embrace them and turn to those who made North Carolina the envied economic development juggernaut of the South. The proof was all around him on Tuesday in Rocky Mount.