Spring 2017

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From the Director

A change is in the air, can you feel it? From the EDC's perch on Main Street, we see folks strolling along the waterfront, lingering over lunch and taking the long way from point A to B, just to soak up a few more minutes of sun. In addition to the turn of the season, Elizabeth City is in the midst of changes that will impact economic development opportunities for many springs to come. In December, the Virginia Port Authority announced it would expand the Foreign-Trade Zone to include Pasquotank and six neighboring counties. This has the potential to make our region a prime draw for manufacturers seeking easy access to the Port. Elizabeth City's new charter school, the Northeast Academy of Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, is wrapping up its second year of operation and is expanding incrementally to graduate its first class of college-ready, STEM-savvy seniors in 2019. And thanks to a public-private partnership between the City of Elizabeth City and Eastern Shore Communications, residents and businesses will have access to affordable broadband service beginning this summer. Oh, and one more change. The Amazon Wind Farm US East turbines, powered by Avangrid Renewables at Desert Wind, are fully operational, quietly producing enough energy to power the equivalent of 61,000 homes each year. Change is in the air, for sure.

Wayne Harris
Director, ECPCEDC
Meet our Dynamic Retirees
What is it that makes life in Elizabeth City so pleasant? The waterfront views, the small town charm, the proximity to the Outer Banks and Norfolk? Yes, of course. But the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission believes its residents play a big role in the quality of life. That's why they've been keen on showcasing the area's CEOs, workers and entrepreneurs on their website and in their advertisements. This month, the EDC launched the fourth in its "people" series, showcasing couples who chose Elizabeth City for retirement.
            "We wanted to feature some of the dynamic couples who decided to call Elizabeth City home, after enjoying busy careers in larger cities and, in some cases, moving back to their hometown after many years away," said Lloyd Griffin, Chairman of the marketing committee.
            The series kicked off last month with features on Beverly and Buddy Madrin, active community volunteers whose fast pace would set Millennials to shame, and Sally and Pete Bruderle (pictured above), who carved out peace, quiet and a second career after relocating from northern Virginia. Read all about it at harborofopportunity.com , and look for upcoming features on Geoff and Jody McNamara and Don and Bette Lou Campbell in the months ahead. 
Downtown with Debbie Malenfant
A long-time Elizabeth City entrepreneur is now working to attract new businesses to the city's downtown business district. Last fall, Debbie Malenfant, a business development professional and former owner of the popular City Wine Sellar, was named director of Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. (ECDI). The non-profit's goal is to beautify and revitalize downtown Elizabeth City, while maintaining its historic integrity. Malenfant moved here from Amesbury, Mass. with her family at age four and now considers herself a true Southerner (even though she still roots for the Patriots). Here's what she thinks about the present and future of Elizabeth City's downtown.

Tell us about ECDI.  Our mission is to be the catalyst of revitalization for downtown. Many think of us as the "group that does the Potato Festival," which we are (and do it fantastically), but we do so much more. We promote our wonderful downtown and its many assets and businesses by improving its appearance, safety and functionality. We also coordinate and host community events and activities and work with retailers, business owners, property owners and investors to encourage economic development in downtown.
What short- and long-term goals have your office established?  In the short term, we want to do a little spiffing up and improve the appearance of downtown, as well as improve the perception. We want to tell the story of downtown, create an excitement around it and encourage our community to take pride in it. Long term, simply stated: We want our first level storefronts filled with successful businesses and our upper level spaces filled with residents. We want shoppers shopping, diners dining, artists arting and people living in our downtown. When people are asked where they most want to spend their time and money, we want their first answer to be "Downtown."

Why is downtown revitalization important? People say that downtown is the heart of a community. In reality, it's the soul. Downtown represents the essence of the city - it's who we are; it's our personality, so to speak. Downtown embodies our history, our uniqueness. You can go to a shopping center and, most likely, it will look and be like any other shopping center. Maybe it will have different stores than the last one you visited, but it's still the same - squares and boxes. Our downtowns hold our spirit and our character. And, even though nearly every town has a downtown, they're all different and each represents the quintessence of who they are. We need to keep our downtown alive, unique and vibrant for the benefit of our city as a whole.
What types of new businesses do you envision downtown? As we work to revitalize downtown, we have to remember and focus on the fact that it will never be exactly like it was years ago. We need to appreciate and honor our history and architectural integrity while re-inventing ourselves. We aren't an urban city, and our population density doesn't support nabbing the big-name retailers and chain restaurants for our downtown. We need to focus on recruiting entrepreneurs who have unique products and who build their businesses on experiences, whether it is shopping, dining, cultural, lifestyle or living experiences.

What jobs have prepared you for ECDI? My background is small business and entrepreneurial-based, having been part of multiple startup businesses. I have experience as a consultant, helping to develop strategic and marketing plans for businesses, and I've taught numerous business courses and workshops. I love business development and marketing. I have a love for downtown Elizabeth City and have been actively involved in many organizations working for the betterment of downtown. That said, the one thing that has prepared me most for this role is the relationships I have developed over the years as a member of the community. One cannot do a job like this without collaboration, partnerships and teamwork, no matter your previous experience.
Any advice for prospective business owners?  1) Understand that there is a difference between bootstrapping a business and being undercapitalized. You should always be resourceful and creative with your resources when starting out (bootstrapping). You should start your business with enough financial resources to sustain you for at least your first year (and realize that you may have to go that long without taking a salary). Starting a new business is exciting and fun, but you will not generate enough money to pay your bills from day one. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but things always take much longer and cost way more than expected. Running out of cash shuts you down. 2) Be different and provide an amazing customer service experience, bar none. Whether you are selling a product or a service, it's the experience that will bring people back. 3) Don't assume that if you build it, people will come. Market yourself consistently and regularly. "One-and-done" advertising doesn't cut it. Spend money, don't chintz, on marketing your business. 4) Don't get so caught up working  in your business that you don't work  on your business. Business development is important. Constantly evaluate and make changes. 5) Be creative in every single aspect of your business - except accounting!
What's the best-kept secret in Elizabeth City?  Our downtown, of course. I'm surprised every day by the number of local folks who don't know how amazing downtown Elizabeth City is.

Send Us Your Business News!
For our Social Media Business Information Network, we are gathering regional business and economic development-related news to share in this quarterly  Developments e-newsletter and on our social media sites. Please send along information that would be of interest to northeastern North Carolina's economic development stakeholders, municipalities, business owners, prospective businesses and employees. We are interested in hearing about:

*  Business openings and expansions
*  Business workshops and seminars
*  Continuing education opportunities
*  Grant announcements
*  Ground-breaking events
*  Major business announcements
*  Workforce development news
*  Special events with a focus on business
*  Items of interest that would appeal to 
   those who follow local and regional
   business news

Please send your news for consideration to  kharris@ecpcedc.com.

Port of Virginia Expands FTZ to Pasquotank County
Expansion of Virginia's Foreign-Trade Zone (FTZ 20) into northeast North Carolina was approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce last December, clearing the path for the inclusion of Pasquotank, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates, Hertford and Perquimans counties.
            "This is an incentive that can be used to attract business to the port and investment and jobs to locations within the FTZ," said John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority (VPA). "The benefits of the FTZ can be significant and this decision opens the door in northeast North Carolina to those benefits. This gives companies that are considering an investment or expansion another reason to implement their decision."
            Companies operating in Foreign-Trade Zones can defer, reduce or eliminate U.S. Customs duties on imported products. Once in a zone, imported components can be stored, distributed, assembled, manufactured, repackaged, tested, etc., and Customs duties are not paid on products exported outside of the U.S., rather duty is only paid on products entering U.S. Customs territory. Manufacturing operations receive the most benefit from the FTZ when the duty-rate on the raw materials is higher than the duty-rate on the finished product and when the volume of imported shipments is high.
            "Pasquotank County will be a draw for manufacturers that rely on importing to relocate their business to the Elizabeth City area, located just 45 miles from the Port of Virginia," said Wayne Harris, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission. "A typical manufacturer, with 50 employees and 250 custom entries a year, could save more than $30,000 annually in reduced reporting on shipments."
            Another asset for the region: traffic between northeastern North Carolina and Hampton Roads has been eased with the recent opening of the Dominion Boulevard Veterans Bridge in Chesapeake and improvements on U.S. Highway 17.
            "I think you all are sitting in a great spot as far as development and as far as getting manufacturers and distribution centers to northeastern North Carolina," said Aaron Ouellett, a Port of Virginia economic development specialist. "The reason is because you are in close proximity to the port."
New Kid on the Broadband Block
Founded in 2011 with the goal of developing residential broadband on Virginia's Eastern Shore, Eastern Shore Communications (ESC) took off as fast as the connections it provides. The company has since extended its reach to offer both fiber and fixed wireless-based broadband internet and related services to businesses in Virginia, Maryland - and now North Carolina. Beginning this summer, the company will bring broadband service to Elizabeth City. This quarter, we caught up with ESC's tech-savvy president Ronald van Geijn, to find out more.


Where did you live before settling on the Eastern Shore?  My family and I lived in northern Virginia, where I worked for an information security company as the senior vice president of product management. When we first experienced the Eastern Shore in 2004, we fell in love with it and it became our mission to create our lives there. That happened in 2008 when we moved full-time to live in Cape Charles, a historic town with a rich history on the Chesapeake Bay.

What prompted you to start your business?  Unhappy with my own internet connection, I set out to create a better experience for all residents and small-businesses on the Eastern Shore. Armed only with my credit card and a small bridge loan, ESC started service in three communities with two specific goals: create jobs by opening opportunities for local businesses through high-speed internet and proof out our technology for wider deployment. Both were wildly successful. Having proven our technology and delivered affordable, reliable and fast access to unserved and under-served areas, we quickly covered most municipalities on the Eastern Shore. By osmosis we spread into Maryland, and south towards and now into North Carolina.

What services do you provide?  Today, we provide our customers via fixed-wireless and fiber-optics a large variety of services: broadband internet, digital telephone, IT support, network design and implementation, security cameras and more. As a trusted partner, we advise and assist our customers so they receive the most value from the services they purchase. We strongly believe that technology should be a business enabler. As such, we don't sell and move on; we are there as a partner for the long run.

Who are your corporate customers? Most of our customers value their privacy and some simply do not allow me to name them period. Suffice it to say, we have the largest aqua farm on the East Coast as a long-time customer, many Hilton-branded hotels, a very large concrete producer, a public school system, public library, large MDU's in Ocean City and one of the largest Electric Co-ops in America. 

Educating Today's Students for Tomorrow's STEM-based Careers
Andrew Harris, CEO of the new Northeast Academy of Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, is passionate about the work taking place in the new Elizabeth City charter school. In fact, he doesn't view his young charges as students; he sees them as the next generation of pilots, engineers, industrial designers and network specialists.
            The Academy, located at Elizabeth City State University, is North Carolina's only public charter school operating on the campus of a public university. Opened in September 2015, it offers an innovative STEM-themed curriculum for students in six northeastern North Carolina counties. Currently, the Academy has 250 students in seventh through tenth grades, with plans to grow incrementally. The school expects to accommodate 490 total students by 2019, when it graduates its first class of seniors.
            "I feel fortunate to lead this initiative," said Harris, a former science teacher and instructional education specialist who grew up in Perquimans County. "This is not the type of school any of us experienced. We are preparing these students for advanced careers so they can solve real world problems."
The Academy engages students with a hands-on, problem-based approach to learning. Recently, they worked in teams to identify and solve an array of modern-day issues - how to develop a comfortable seat for airline pilots; engage people in the dangers of driving below the speed limit; and design a new multipurpose room for the Museum of the Albemarle. They presented their findings to educators and community leaders at an "Exhibition of Student Learning" at ECSU. In addition to shoring up the students' research and public speaking skills, the forum gave some a taste of success. The multipurpose room re-do proposal has since been embraced by Museum officials, who plan to implement some of the suggestions.
            Connecting the students with the community, and vice versa, is important to the Academy leadership. The school partners with ECSU, which offers the students selected classes, including aviation courses.  Next year, the staff will work with the College of the Albemarle on dual-enrollment offerings for the school's first junior class. And, the school will soon hire a career development coordinator to help arrange for intern and mentor opportunities for students.
            When the first graduates receive their diplomas in 2019, many will be candidates for an associate's degree as well. All will be prepared to enter the work world, says Harris, and he hopes they stay and work close to home.
            "We feel students in our region deserve an education on par with the best of the world, and we need to retain as much talent as possible. We're fully committed to this from the board level to the individual teachers, parents and students," said Harris. "The future is bright. Our students have an opportunity to reshape our region, and I don't know if they'll get that opportunity anywhere else." 

For more Elizabeth City biz news and views, visit HarborofOpportunity.com.


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Headquartered in Elizabeth City, N.C., the Elizabeth City  |  Pasquotank County EDC markets business opportunities in the City of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County to prospective employers throughout the United States. It's location in the center of northeastern North Carolina makes the area ideally suited for business development, expansion and relocation. 

For information, go to elizabethcitypasquotankEDC.com or call at 1-888-338-1678 or (252) 338-0169.