Leaders Support New Moore County Economic Plan
From The Pilot 12/8/17 by Laura Douglass, Staff Writer
The health care and hospitality industries are key drivers for Moore County’s economy, and a new three-year strategic plan unveiled this past week envisions a stronger economic future based on growth opportunities in both fields.
“Health care and medical-related business is an incredible bright spot in Moore,” said Dan Parks, senior strategist for The Hayes Group. “We see this as an asset that can be leveraged.”
Partners in Progress, the county’s lead economic development operation, hired the consulting firm The Hayes Group last year to develop a countywide strategic action plan for economic development. Through a yearlong process of discovery, evaluation and planning, they identified seven goals and 47 strategies that address and take advantage of the macro-changes underway: shifting demographics, population growth, development pressure, and the economic disparity between the county’s northern and southern ends.
On Tuesday, Dec. 5, local leaders from the public and private sectors heard a summary presentation of the 2020 Strategic Action Plan for Economic Development. The comprehensive study results and 45-page plan may also be viewed online at the Partners in Progress website.
“A lot of the things we want to do will be self-help things. When you are a tier three county, the position you are put in is self-help,” said Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress. “We can’t keep complaining about state regulations. They are what they are. What we need to focus on is, what can we do for ourselves? What are our next steps that we can build on to create new economy?”
One concept laid out in the plan combines the strengths of several key industries by developing Moore County into a health destination, uniting the economic power and promise of health care, golf and sport-related business and hospitality.
Approximately 30 percent of the Moore County workforce is employed in health care, and this number is expected to grow. Between 2012-2106, there was an 8 percent increase in employment in local health care and social assistance, compared with 5 percent statewide. In accommodation and food service, the area experienced an even more dramatic uptick in the same time period, with a 15 percent increase versus 13 percent seen across North Carolina as a whole.
Currently, the county’s largest private sector employers are, in respective order, FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Pinehurst, LLC (Pinehurst Resort), St. Joseph of the Pines, Pinehurst Medical Clinic, Walmart, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Pinehurst Surgical Clinic, Lee Electrical Construction, and Lowes Food Stores.
Earlier this year, a focus group looking at the health care industry identified several sectors where they envision demand and services will likely grow in the near term. This list includes telemedicine and telehealth, geriatrics, dementia-memory care, preventive services, addiction treatment, obesity-related care, palliative care, home health services, and cancer treatment and affiliated services.
Other sectors within the health care and social assistance industry experiencing local job growth include residential care facilities, individual and family services, continuing care retirement communities, and assisted living facilities. The list of sectors experienced double-digit growth over the last five years also includes offices of physicians, other health practitioners, and dentists.
“I am excited about the plan, especially the health care component,” said Aberdeen Town Commissioner Elease Goodwin, in a brief interview following the Tuesday luncheon presentation.
In 1981, Goodwin founded Orthotics and Prosthetics of Pinehurst after recognizing that locals were driving over an hour away for the nearest orthotics and prosthetics help at that time. The company’s purpose is to assist clients in recovery and regaining an active lifestyle — whether that is hiking with their dog or enjoying a round of golf.
“I think the health care industry can connect in a number of different ways and expand on what we have now. We have a great medical community here that I am happy to be part of,” added Goodwin.
Another focus group coordinated by The Hayes Group study considered economic growth potential in golf and golf-related businesses. They identified opportunities in attracting golf companies to make the area their home base, creation of a golf innovation lab, and positioning Moore County as the “thought leader” on the future of golf, and looking at ways to combine golf and health care.
Pinehurst Mayor Nancy Roy Fiorillo said that many of the identified goals are “already being done to a certain degree,” but putting all of the pieces together to implement the plan is the bigger challenge. “We will have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said.
And while southern Moore is known for its hospitality industry, the strategic plan also emphasizes the potential of more development of tourism, revitalization and business enterprise in northern Moore. All three goals could potentially be realized through the creation of trail systems to link various interests in arts and pottery, history and heritage, and outdoor sports between the NC Zoo in Asheboro, through Seagrove and Star, to Robbins, then southward.
“It is very interesting. If we had this conversation five years ago, I don’t think we would have put golf and sports-related industry so far down the list. Instead, it would have been No. 1,” said Rep. Jamie Boles. “That just goes to show that our community is growing and diversifying. I hope our community leaders are willing to address the changes that come along with that.
“At the state level, we’ve had to make those changes,” Boles added, pointing to new regulations and substantial investments made in infrastructure, roads and ports. “There are challenges, but we are meeting them as indicated by the recent ranking by Forbes.”
In November, Forbes ranked North Carolina the No. 1 state in the country for business based on costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life. Last year the state was ranked No. 2.
Retired educator and community activist Dot Brower said she sees good things in the plan, particularly in higher education and workforce training.
“We are creating new jobs to replace what we lost, and to make sure our families in the future can support themselves like they have in the past,” Brower said.
However, school board member Betty Wells Brown was more cautious because the plan’s focus was limited to higher educational needs. Currently the Moore County school system is struggling with a variety of interrelated concerns, including overenrollment at some schools; aging and deteriorating facilities in Pinehurst, Aberdeen and Southern Pines; and an ongoing budget crunch exacerbated by a number of factors.
“Where is education in this? I see this as an important quality when you are looking at building economy with an educated workforce,” Brown said. “The plan talks about working with Sandhills Community College, but you first have to start with children who will train for these future jobs. What I would like to see is how education is intertwined in all of these goals.
“When you look at a future workforce, we are the ones who will be training them be critical thinkers. We must prioritize building a basic education foundation that extends from those 3 and 4 years old up all the way up to college age.”