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Southeastern Partnership holds annual meeting in Whiteville

Keynote Speaker Explains South’s Manufacturing Renaissance

About 100 business, government and community leaders from around southeastern North Carolina gathered last Thursday evening at Whiteville’s Vineland Station for the first-ever annual meeting of The Southeastern Partnership. Included were investors, partners, allies, elected officials and others.

“The annual meeting was a celebration of economic progress in the Southeast as well as the successful transition this organization has made to its new, grassroots-oriented partnership model,” said Jeff Etheridge, chairman of the Southeastern Partnership. The event was also an opportunity for those new to the regional economic development partnership to get to know each other.

“In the last two years we’ve grown from 11 counties to 16, and we have a few leaders who are still relatively new to our ranks,” said Etheridge, a longtime business and community leader who lives in Whiteville. Attendees heard Etheridge and Partnership President Steve Yost review programs and discuss results. In fiscal year 2014-15, the Southeastern Partnership generated 86 qualified leads, worked 72 unique projects, made 205 building and site recommendations and organized 31 visits with company decision-makers.

“The majority of our projects came from the U.S., but 29 of the 72 were from foreignbased companies,” Yost said. “International opportunities and foreign direct investment are central to our regional development vision.”

Greg Fennell, chief commercial officer for the North Carolina State Ports Authority, told the crowd that fiscal year 2015 had been a record year for container traffic at the Port of Wilmington.

“We had an 18 percent increase in business, the fastest growth of any East Coast port that year,” Fennell said. Among the port’s newest customers are Enviva, Sanderson Farms and Acme Smoked Fish, all companies recruited to the region by local economic developers working in concert with the regional partnership, private allies and state partners. Mike Randall, owner and publisher of Southern Business & Development magazine, was the keynote speaker for the event.

“Re-shoring is behind the manufacturing renaissance currently underway in southern states,” Randall said. “‘Make it where you sell it’ is a new phenomenon that will last many years,” he told the gathering. Technological advances, productive workers and simpler supply chains make manufacturing in the South more profitable than in China.

“That’s why U.S. manufacturers are now returning and Chinese companies are also locating here,” he said. “They’re coming, and they’ve got to play by our rules.”

Headquartered in Elizabethtown, The Southeastern Partnership pursues a mission to “provide strong economic development leadership in southeastern North Carolina through innovative marketing and collaborative regional initiatives that will support the creation of new jobs, generate capital investment, and secure new business locations.”

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