Businesses Share Stories of Resilience at EDPNC Roundtables

December 7, 2020


RALEIGH, N.C. – The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) recently wrapped up its fourth in a series of eight regional roundtables being held virtually across the state in November and December.

They have included local industry leaders, each telling a different story of the pandemic’s impact on business in 2020, as well as local chamber leaders and economic development partners sharing insight into specific economic challenges and opportunities in their regions.

Halfway through the series, the overarching theme is clear: Despite the pandemic, many local businesses are seeing new job and expansion opportunities and capitalizing on support from organizations such as the EDPNC.

The series, attended by hundreds so far, kicked off in Wilmington Nov. 24 with panelists focused on the Southeast region. Corey Barnhill, president and CEO of Cardinal Foods in Burgaw, spoke of his business growth goals and his guide to state programs and partnerships that can support them ― James Wolfe, EDPNC’s existing industry expansions manager in the region. “He understands how they work, who to talk to, how to get things done,” Barnhill said.

Tracey and Girard Newkirk, co-founders of Genesis Block in Wilmington, a business development organization focused on minority and women-owned businesses, highlighted EDPNC’s work with supporting startups and removing barriers to growth. Such support can help Genesis Block achieve its goal of creating 120 new businesses and hundreds of jobs in the region over the next few years.

Giving a statewide perspective, Christopher Chung, chief executive officer of the EDPNC, noted the pandemic has influenced consumer behaviors in ways that have fueled growth in some industries, such as food processing. But its impact on travel means the tourism, leisure and hospitality industries still face low demand. The EDPNC wants to make all businesses aware of the helpful – and completely free – support it offers businesses.

Take Bright View Technologies in Durham, for example. Faced with the uncertainty of whether it would be deemed an essential business in the early spring, the company quickly pivoted to making face shields. “Since we work with clear optical grade film… we had most of the pieces, but we didn’t have all of them,” said Mike Bobay, director of operations, during the North Central webinar on Dec. 1.

Harry Swendsen, EDPNC’s existing industry expansions manager in the region, helped Bright View work through alternatives and notified it of a potential state buyer. The face shields went from concept to a substantial state order in under four days, Bobay said. “Honestly, without EDPNC I really don’t think that would have happened.”

Swendsen and the EDPNC have provided resources to many other businesses in the North Central region. Working with local officials, they helped secure a $500,000 grant to support a food manufacturer’s 108-job expansion. They facilitated a $460,000 building reuse grant that is helping a kids’ furniture manufacturer expand production. They connected an inventor with multiple manufacturing options for a product to help children sleep better. They introduced a software company in need of training for 60 new hires with community college customized training. And they educated a small pork processor on available low-interest USDA loans, as well as pointed him to banks handling those loans. The list goes on.

Another example is Nebraska Plastics, a residential and commercial fencing manufacturer headquartered in central Nebraska that was in the process of expanding into Edenton, N.C., in March when the pandemic hit. Meanwhile, as more people began working from home and stopped vacationing, “demand for our products exploded,” said Paul German, president and CEO, during the Northeast webinar on Dec. 2. “EDPNC gave us people to contact so we could do things remotely, working with the state and communities to set up our facility successfully and have it up and running.”

Sarah Bernart, the EDPNC’s Northeast existing industry expansions manager, made it easy to work with the state, helping Nebraska Plastics with the information needed to get its business certificate and registration with the state departments of Labor and Revenue, German added.

Nebraska Plastics originally projected 22 employees and a $1 million investment in the Edenton plant. However, due to customer demand and the plant’s success, the company is investing $3.5 million in the plant that now has 32 employees. German credits Bernart and the EDPNC for helping the company find the right talent. “EDPNC gives us a person to go to with really anything we need, as far as the state, local or county, to help on issues,” he said.

Council Tool, a family-owned, 135-year-old tool manufacturing business in Lake Waccamaw, and eClerx, a global technology solutions and analytics company with operations in Fayetteville, shared similar success stories from the South Central region. When COVID-19 hit, both initially struggled to understand essential vs. nonessential industry classifications, as well as the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.

EDPNC’s existing industry expansions manager for the region, Phillip Schumaker, helped them navigate these challenges and stay operational. With EDPNC’s help, eClerx was even able to keep hiring and training people – expanding its ability to serve clients this year.

“We’ve seen more active projects in the Southeast recently than I probably have seen in the 10 years I’ve been working in this office,” said Gary Lanier, director of the Columbus County Economic Development Commission and NC’s Southeast board member at the South Central webinar on Dec. 3. “We’re juggling so many projects and so much potential job growth… we’ve certainly seen things move in a positive direction when it comes to job creation.”

While optimistic overall, panelists from all four regions acknowledged the unevenness of the pandemic’s impact across industries. Many employers are struggling to survive the “new normal” and in need of help. But they are not going down without a fight and certainly do not need to do it alone. The EDPNC understands the challenges these businesses are facing and stands ready to deploy their arsenal of free resources.

“We’ve just seen a tremendous amount of resilience among those North Carolina companies – whatever sector they are. They’re all committed to getting through to the other side of this pandemic, keeping their teams intact, keeping their employees and customers safe. That’s been tremendously encouraging,” Chung said during the North Central webinar.

“A big part of our role here is how do we get in front of those companies, how do we arm them with the resources, connections, services… get them introduced to programs that will help them, hopefully, weather this pandemic even more than they have to date and, of course, get through to the other side in a position where they can quickly thrive as soon as the economic recovery is complete.”

Note: Recordings of the Southeast, North Central, Northeast and South Central webinars can be found on EDPNC’s YouTube page.