Growing Our Economy, Together - Carolina Country

Growing Our Economy, Together

Electric co-ops play an integral role in economic development throughout the state

By Winston Howell

Jeff CLark

North Carolina has a rich history in manufacturing that dates back to the late 1800s. Since electric co-ops formed across rural North Carolina some 80 years ago, they have been a driving force in continuing that tradition — long before “economic development” was even a term.

Although metropolitan areas of the country continue to recruit and successfully land new projects, rural communities are also sharing in the success, and electric co-ops continue efforts to bolster local economies today. Growing our economy in a smart and responsible manner is an initiative that most groups and communities can unite on for the betterment of their citizens.

Being environmentally conscious and fiscally responsible are the keys to making sure economic development projects start and end successfully.

Rural North Carolina offers many advantages to companies seeking to benefit from our pro-business environment. Several certified industrial and business parks are only a short drive to major interstates, ports and airports throughout the state. Our community college and university systems are some of the best in the country, and they work closely with new and existing industries to provide specialized instruction for a well-trained workforce. The state’s bountiful natural resources from the mountains to the coast are a bonus for companies that enjoy the pace of rural living, but also appreciate a short drive to suburban and urban hubs such as Raleigh and Charlotte.

We believe in forming lasting partnerships with our member-owners that go beyond just being their electric provider.

Electric co-ops play an integral role in economic development throughout the state and are normally included in the early stages of a request for information from prospective companies. Our team of economic developers has worked successfully to help bring and grow an array of successful companies to our communities. Attention to detail, transparency, competitive and customized rates, and a true “boots-on-the-ground” approach make electric co-ops a valuable ally to companies in our service territories.

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have consistently been among the top performers across the country in providing funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic Development Loans and Grant (REDLG) program to new and existing business to help spur economic growth. The REDLG program has proved to be a critical financial resource, allowing us to partner with businesses and counties to create thousands of jobs across the state.

We also understand that companies expect more than just affordable and reliable power to meet their electric demands.

They want to be assured that we are meeting their needs in an environmentally responsible manner. Our Brighter Future initiative ensures we are doing that by providing more carbon-free generation to all of our member-owners. With more than 60 percent of our current fuel mix coming from carbon-free generation resources, we can proudly say we are working responsibly to provide safe, affordable and reliable power to our members.

Among the many lessons learned over the past several months is a need to be more reliant on local sources to meet our manufacturing needs. The COVID-19 pandemic placed a significant strain on the supply chain for products that were in high demand and manufactured in other countries. The way companies operate will also change as we move out of this pandemic. A focus on telework options will allow companies to gain efficiencies while attracting and retaining employees that enjoy the flexibility of that type of work environment.

As we all transition into a different type of normal operations due to COVID-19, we look forward to working with new and existing business and industry to make North Carolina a better place to live and work.

About the Author

Winston Howell is CEO of Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Cooperative, based in Tarboro.

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