Do you want to learn more about workforce challenges in North Carolina’s rural communities and strategies to address them? Are you eager to connect with those who might be your best resource in developing solutions? Then register now for the statewide Energizing Rural North Carolina conference Oct. 8-9 in Sanford, North Carolina.

Registration is open to those who want to join a diverse group of local economic developers and civic leaders attending from across the state. They are gathering at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center to explore how rural communities can retain, attract and develop workforce talent. Some of the topics addressed will include worker education, housing, and health resources.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) is presenting the 2019 Energizing Rural NC conference in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, NC Rural Center, North Carolina Economic Development Association, the Golden LEAF Foundation, and the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University.

Conference speakers and case studies will emphasize actionable strategies that local economic developers can take home to inspire successful workforce initiatives in their own communities.

“Lots of great organizations and conferences address issues of rural prosperity, but this particular event is focused on looking at the impact of workforce on sustainable economic development,” said Christopher Chung, EDPNC chief executive officer. “Site consultants we work with consistently say talent is their No. 1 concern when deciding where to locate or expand a business.”

The EDPNC held its first Energizing Rural NC conference in summer 2018, focusing on five building blocks of prosperity in rural communities – infrastructure, workforce, education, health and local leadership.

The agenda for the 2019 conference includes a panel presentation on Work in Burke, a marketing initiative and website launched in 2017 to promote career and job opportunities in Burke County, particularly in manufacturing, health care and skilled trades.

Burke Development Inc., the county’s economic development organization, started the program in response to some local employers, particularly manufacturers, struggling to fill skilled positions ― a potentially growing problem as more experienced workers retire. The initiative, which has grown to include diverse public and private-industry partners, includes a website enabling the county’s students and their parents to explore in-demand local career options and the required education or training.

Dan Gerlach

Other presenters include:

  • Dan Gerlach, interim chancellor at East Carolina University in Greenville and former president of the Golden LEAF Foundation based in Rocky Mount. As the event’s overview speaker, Gerlach will outline workforce challenges and opportunities in rural North Carolina and their impact on economic development. Last May, Gerlach assumed leadership of ECU, which is developing the workforce of the future in Eastern North Carolina. He spent more than a decade as head of Golden LEAF, whose grants include support for upskilling the workforce pipeline in the state’s rural communities.
  • Peter Hans, president of the North Carolina Community College. Hans will address what community colleges are doing to advance workforce development in the state. Prior to assuming his current position in May 2018, Hans advised then-UNC System President Margaret Spellings on issues such as technology and K-12 education. “We know that by next year, two-thirds of the jobs in our state will require a postsecondary degree or credential, and our adult population is far short of that now,” Hans says. “Community colleges will play a critical role in our new statewide goal of having 2 million North Carolinians by 2030 with a degree or credential beyond high school.”
  • Kate McEnroe of Kate McEnroe Consulting, a location selection and economic development consulting firm headquartered in Chicago. McEnroe, an expert in coaching economic development organizations, will share how site selection consultants assess a community’s workforce and what factors are most important. Since data drives site selection, she will stress how rural communities must fully grasp how they the compare to similar locations nationwide. “When you take an honest look at data that describes your community and you see challenges, the compelling approach is to develop and market your problem-solving skills,” McEnroe says.

    Patience Fairbrother

  • Patience Fairbrother, account director at Development Counsellors International, a travel and economic development marketing firm headquartered in New York City. She will be addressing the critical importance of branding and marketing communities to attract workforce talent and best practices to do so, particularly when budgets may be limited. Fairbrother has won multiple awards for her talent-attraction marketing work, including as brand and content strategist for Cleveland County’s Charlotte’s Backyard website and campaign in North Carolina.
  • Stuart Gilbert, director of community and economic development for Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Gilbert, who previously served as economic development director in Person County, will speak on developing workforce housing initiatives in smaller communities. Gilbert will outline ways local economic developers can become involved in helping their county or town meet its workforce housing challenges. “As economic developers, we have too long stayed out of the housing arena and left it to planners and others,” Gilbert says. “But our getting involved will make a difference for our communities.”

Visit our event website to register or learn more about the conference.

Anyone with questions about registering should email Kelly Dawson, EDPNC events manager, at kelly.dawson@edpnc.com. Journalists interested in covering the event should contact Mary Wilson, EDPNC communications manager, at mary.wilson@edpnc.com or 919-447-7784.