From The Pilot, 3/30/17
Partners in Progress Spearheading Countywide Strategic Plan Project
Moore County has different issues challenging different areas. Local leaders face an expanding population, a shifting demographic, and a lopsided economy between the northern and southern regions.
“We are an anomaly. We are a rural, growing economy and we have these unique circumstances,” said Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress. “These dynamics are causing dynamic changes.”
Land use, education needs, transportation planning, economic development and job creation are under close scrutiny. The county’s population is steadily increasing at a rate of about 1.5 percent per year, and in addition to the steady population growth, the area hosts approximately 1.2 million annual visitors.
New retail and residential developments are clustered in the county’s southern end. In Aberdeen, Southern Pines, Whispering Pines and Pinehurst, new businesses and subdivisions seem to pop up wherever entrepreneurs and developers see profit and promise. Meanwhile, in the northern stretches, poverty and lack of job opportunities are more commonplace while access to capital is harder to come by.
“We need to address issues that may affect our overall quality of life. We’ve had it good for a long time but that is not a guarantee. It shouldn’t be assumed it will always be that way,” Corso said.
How can the future economic health of Moore County be best managed? To answer this question, Partners has contracted with The Hayes Group to develop a countywide strategic community development plan. Through four phases of study, evaluation and implementation, the final plan will provide a unified approach to direct and manage growth — particularly for those areas located in the “micropolitan” area of southern Moore County — and enable the entire county to be more competitive in attracting new jobs, talent and investment.
“Great communities realize they have to be proactive in their own interests. That is what we are trying to do,” Corso said. “The first step is to identify the issues and the opportunities.”
The discovery phase of the study includes interviews with more than 70 business owners, elected officials, and key influencers throughout the area. The purpose is to establish trends, assets, challenges and ideas for solutions. The first phase also includes an online survey to gather input from the community at large.
Interested residents are encouraged to participate in the online community survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/MooreCoPilot. The deadline to participate is April 14.
“The interviews have been fascinating. The individuals we have spoken to are so passionate about their county and where they are going in the future,” said Charles Hayes, who served as the executive director of Partners in Progress for 10 years and later as president of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. “Moore County is extremely beautiful and diverse. When you have diversity, you have different interests. And that can be challenging to get all of those interests moving together.”
Dan Parks is a business strategist assisting Hayes with creating the countywide plan. Parks was previously affiliated with N.C. State University’s Industry Expansion Solutions division and has led strategic economic development initiatives for regional partnerships, counties, towns, and chambers of commerce, and has led strategic plan development for over 20 counties with a focus on economic expansion and job creation.
“The key to this is that things are changing rapidly around us. Not having a plan is not an option for everyone we’ve spoken with,” Parks said. “Moore County has a pretty stark rural-urban divide, probably more stark than any other county in our state. Most of us understand the more rural areas of the county are in the north and it is more urban in the south. Going forward, how do we have a plan that benefits the whole county but also pays special attention to particular needs in particular areas?”
A key step in the discovery phase, which is underway now, is to encourage a dialogue around the topic of economic development. Parks said the in-person interviews and online survey are vital steps.
“We are engaging folks on what we are doing but, very importantly, this is also an opportunity for them to say what they see as their needs and potential solutions. We will glean specific strategies that go into the plan from this information. It is not an academic exercise….this is not going to be an off-the-shelf plan. This is a plan that will customized as much as we can for Moore County,” he said.
The second, third and fourth phases of plan development include crafting a vision and mission statement, establishing priorities, and leading implementation of the plan with performance measures in place.
“These strategies will not be based on what I think,” Parks said. “There are no preconceived commitments to anything. We are looking for a fresh look and the plan will not be based on any specific groups’ influence.”
The ultimate goal is to take advantage of the change that is occurring and use it to stimulate new opportunities that will enhance and benefit residents.
“We want Moore County to be one of the best places to live not just in North Carolina, but in the world. I know that sounds grandiose but go ask Dr. Dempsey at Sandhills Community College if he wants to be the best. You can ask the same if you go to Pinehurst Resort, or the hospital, or the equine center. All of these people would say the same thing, ‘We want to be the best,” he said.
“You can either sit back and react, or you can try to look ahead at what might happen. We want to protect what we have now that makes us great and we want to look ahead so we are better in the future than we are now.”