Economic Development and Collaborative Success
Craven County is located in rural North Carolina, along the East Coast of the United States, with the beach only thirty minutes away depending on where in the county you are. With a vibrant culture and a diverse economy for a county of its size, Craven County has a lot to offer those who choose to live, work, and visit its natural beauty and coastal escapes.
Craven County is a superb location for living and leisure, as well as for business and investment. Located at the confluence of the Trent and Neuse rivers, Craven County also has a network of streams and lakes. As Craven County basks in a mild four season climate, the Croatan National Forest can be enjoyed throughout the year.
There is always something going on in Craven County. Dozens of events and festivals are held each year, for locals and visitors alike, to enjoy. In addition to the art, culture, and local tourism, Craven County’s coastal location makes it a community with a lot to offer.
“You could never do it all!” says Director of Economic Development Timothy Downs, who is also Executive Director of the Craven 100 Alliance (C1A). “I’ve lived in a lot of places, and nowhere have I been before where there has been more of a community buy in, that sense of community, that spirit of loyalty, the support of one another. It’s just incredible here.”
Craven County also enjoys a rich history. The city of New Bern is one of the oldest in the state and was the first colonial capital of North Carolina. New Bern has just been classified as a Metropolitan Planning Area, as it has exceeded a population of 50,000 people, a significant indication of the growth and development occurring in the county.
The Craven 100 Alliance originated as a means to redefine economic development, building on the efforts of the past and bringing together stakeholders in the community to collaborate for economic growth and success. This model of development allows buy-in from community members and organizations from the public and private sector.
The Craven 100 Alliance was originally formed in 1975 as the Craven County Committee of 100. Its purpose was reconstituted in December, 2014, in order to do more – a concerted planning effort for economic development and growth. As Downs stated, “The more, in that case, is to be more proactive, more aggressive, more outwardly focused on attracting new business.”
The Craven County Committee of 100 laid the foundation for this new era of growth over the past several decades, though the last ten years prior to its repurposing had been quiet. Prior to that time, no serious proactive efforts had been made on economic growth and development.
The refreshed alliance was formed in order to bring the two major cities in the county, Havelock and New Bern, along with the county and the private sector together. This was to “again, be more intentional, more aligned, more collaborative with economic development and growth in general.”
The C1A is a unique arrangement of the public and private sectors. The twenty-one member board has the majority vote falling to the private sector. “If we do what we say we are going to do and we do what I would like to do, we’ll have really good stories to tell in a year or two,” shares Downs. Together, the board will collaborate on long-term planning, workforce development, and setting the direction for the future.
Downs explains the forseeable future of economic development in Craven County. “Our existing industries are very strong and have really come through the recession very well, so I think our greatest growth – in terms of job numbers and investments in human capital or otherwise – are going to be from our existing industries.”
An example of the work being done by the Craven 100 Alliance has to do with workforce development and supporting the existing industries that call the county home. Hatteras Yachts is currently on a steady growth path and is faced with a shortage of skilled tradespeople, a problem that the C1A is working to address.
The C1A is bringing together Craven Community College, the local workforce development board, and the community. Through this, Craven 100 Alliance is helping to identify and train workers in order to satisfy the labor demands of the area’s existing industries and, given enough lead time, for future industries.
Craven County has a rather diverse economy with several very active economic sectors leading the way. With a strong manufacturing sector, a very strong health care sector that serves as a regional center, and a well developed military and government sector, the area is ideal for manufacturing and product development, professional, scientific, and technical services, as well as aerospace and defense companies.
One of the most important elements of Craven County is Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, which is home to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and the Fleet Readiness Center East. MCAS Cherry Point contributes greatly to Craven County’s economy, with over 34,000 active and retired military and family members. MCAS Cherry Point provides a $2.05 billion a year contribution to the local economy.
The Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Development Company is located here. It owns a great deal of privately held land in the area and has contributed to the growth of many neighborhoods in the county, and there is still significant room for prospective industries to grow.
“I think we are going to see some new business – new industry – come to the county,” Downs says. “We obviously hope that. But, I firmly believe that the mix is right, that we’ve got the right formula, that this is going to happen and that the Craven 100 Alliance will be right at the lead of that effort.”
The community also has a wonderful asset in the Craven County Industrial Park which serves as a substantial component of the vision for future economic development. The park is currently home to renowned and successful companies like Moen, BSH Home Appliances, and Aylward Enterprises.
The establishment of the industrial park coincided with the formation of the Craven County Committee of 100 in 1975 and marked the beginning of Craven County’s economic diversification and growth. The industrial park is conveniently located adjacent to rail and has convenient access to the US 70, several metro areas and a number of ports.
There are eight fully serviced lots, totaling 200 acres, still available, six of which are owned by Craven County. The park is served by Duke Energy Progress and City of New Bern water and sewer. More is being done to improve the park including an application to the Federal government to establish a foreign trade zone and installation of fiber optic cable.
Moving forward, Craven County stakeholders will be focused on what Downs referred to as product development and marketing Craven County on a greater scale. With competitive utility costs and the infrastructure to support development, an airport, rail service, port access, and access to US 70 and US 17, Craven County is well positioned from a logistical standpoint.
Building on its intentional and sustainable growth plan, Downs hopes to showcase Craven County’s large amount of competitively priced, available land as well as many facilities and larger spaces from which prospective investors may choose.
One such development being undertaken by Weyerhaeuser is Craven Thirty, a 550-acre mixed-use, commercial, residential, and retail development. Centrally located, it will be a new and exciting place to live, work, play, shop, and dine as it welcomes residents, neighbors and tourists alike.
Craven Thirty will include restaurants, retailers, a movie theatre, lodging, a medical park, apartments, and townhomes. Its access to the area’s walking and biking trails give it the advantage of the millions of visitors – and millions of dollars – that pass through the area each year.
Craven County’s population is expected to grow by 7,000 residents by 2018, no doubt sparked by the economic success of the county and its great quality of life. With all the necessary services and amenities to support this growth, a rich history, and a naturally beautiful location, Craven County is poised to sustain and grow its already economically and socially viable community.