Local economic developers and civic leaders from counties across North Carolina will be gathering Oct. 8-9 in Sanford to discuss promising strategies to support, retain and grow the local workforces of rural communities.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) is presenting the 2019 Energizing Rural North Carolina 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.

This year’s invitation-only conference, to be held at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center, will focus on workforce development best practices and ideas in three areas: talent retention, attraction and development. 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 targets an audience of local economic developers and the hometown leaders they decide to bring with them,” said Christopher Chung, EDPNC chief executive officer.

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 still-developing 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, initiated 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 set the stage by outlining workforce issues 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 System. 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. He served as a leader on North Carolina’s two governing boards for higher education ― the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and the State Board of Community Colleges. He previously worked as a senior policy adviser to three U.S. senators.
  • Kate McEnroe of Kate McEnroe Consulting, a location selection and economic development consulting firm headquartered in Chicago. McEnroe will share how site selection consultants assess a community’s workforce and what drivers are important to companies in the selection process. She is an expert in coaching economic development organizations on developing high-impact business cases for workforce assets.
  • Patience Fairbrother, account director at Development Counsellors International (DCI), a travel and economic development marketing firm headquartered in New York City. She has won multiple awards for her talent-attraction marketing work for Cleveland County in North Carolina, Upstate South Carolina and Northern Colorado. She currently works with the Piedmont Triad Partnership, Piedmont Triad Regional Council and the Carolina Core regional brand. The core is an area stretching from Winston-Salem to Fayetteville that includes four megasites.

    Patience Fairbrother

  • 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. Kings Mountain (population 10,800) outside Charlotte currently has over 1,100 housing units in development.

Local economic developers from all 100 North Carolina counties have been invited to the 2019 Energizing Rural NC conference, with each asked to bring a team of local influencers. The event will also be open to invited media.

Invitees with any questions should email Kelly Dawson, EDPNC events manager, at kelly.dawson@edpnc.com or call her at 919-447-7789. Journalists interested in covering the event should contact Mary Wilson, EDPNC communications manager, at mary.wilson@edpnc.com or 919-447-7784.