Andrew Guinn is a graduate student in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning and a CCP intern working in Caswell and Lenoir Counties.
When driving into Kinston, it is almost impossible to overlook the two most important outcomes of recent economic development efforts in Lenoir County. US-70 takes drivers right past the site of the new Sanderson Farms chicken processing plant, and the roadside also features numerous signs that point you towards the Global TransPark, which recently attracted Spirit Aerosystems. The arrival these two companies alone will generate thousands of jobs within Kinston and Lenoir County, and the accompanying economic activity will spur demand for other goods and services in the area, which will in turn create even more jobs. It is hoped that these jobs will propel the region forward to a degree that has not been seen since DuPont began disinvesting in its Kinston plant in the 1970’s. My conversations with local leaders have underscored how exciting these developments are for both Kinston and Lenoir. With so much activity coming into the area, it’s clear why the Kinston Chamber of Commerce is reminding residents that “We’re on the Way.”
At the same time, however, there is still work to be done for both government and community leaders in order to prepare for this influx of activity. While the companies’ location decisions speak to Lenoir’s physical infrastructure capabilities, local leaders are beginning to turn their attention to the social infrastructure of the area: neighborhood resiliency, social service provision and educational resources. These issues are especially pressing because the sudden influx of jobs brings not only new money, but also new residents to the area.
Ideally, these residents will live locally so that they will contribute not only to the tax base but also to the vitality of the community. Attracting residents to Kinston and Lenoir requires marketing, and successful marketing requires a good product: a strong community that people want to live in. Fortunately, advances are being made in this area. Kinston, recently designated an All-American City, has been spreading word of positive local developments through the “Kinston, We’re on the Way” initiative with assistance from CCP. Community leaders, some with the support of CCP, are pushing forward with a number of other projects, from STEM education to a Promise Neighborhoods grant application.
While the successful recruitment of large companies creates opportunities for the community, numerous issues remain to be addressed. Is the area prepared for new housing needs, particularly with regards to affordable housing? Are local entrepreneurs and small business owners adequately positioned to take advantage of increased economic growth? Is the community able to satisfy the workforce needs of new employers? Given the dramatic growth of the state’s Hispanic and Asian populations over the last twenty years, how has the county prepared its social, educational and cultural infrastructure in order to sustain a more diverse community? These are questions faced by communities across North Carolina as the state’s remarkable economic transitions are creating new opportunities for distressed, rural communities.
Economic development generally implies new jobs and greater incomes. These benefits, however, tend to be accompanied by the challenges of integrating new residents and new activities into communities that have not seen dramatic changes in years – perhaps decades. That is, when rapid economic development creates the fiduciary resources that can enhance the lives and capabilities of individuals, community development becomes crucial in maximizing the positive impact to social well-being and civic commitment. The ability of local leaders in Kinston’s governmental and non-governmental organizations to anticipate needs, propose visions, and facilitate action is necessary to address these challenges dynamically, such that the benefits of economic development can be translated into an enhanced quality of life for the community as a whole.