Local elected officials, economic development gurus, area business men and women – and, well, just about everyone around – are hoping that last week’s 2018 State of the Community Luncheon was an omen of more great things for Guilford County in the near future.
At the event, about 900 people in the Koury Convention Center heard big news about a coming supermarket distribution center, got information about new area economic development programs, saw a positive report card on progress in Guilford County schools and got a lot of other good news at the event that is, each year, meant to both cheer up and inform the county’s business community.
The Greensboro Chamber of Commerce holds the State of the Community Luncheon address annually and, unlike in some past years, this year there was something big to cheer about. In fact, the news was so big that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper came to town to present it: Publix Super Markets confirmed that the company is building a new $400 million distribution center in Greensboro. There had been a lot of talk and hope about the project before the Wednesday, August 29 luncheon, but the governor made it official.
At the State of the Community Luncheon, the chamber also presented an economic development award to two area workforce development leaders and spoke with high hopes about a new marketing initiative the Piedmont Triad Partnership is undertaking called Carolina Core.
The big news, however, was the Publix announcement that came on the heels of an announcement earlier this summer that FedEx is adding 400 new area jobs and online retail giant Amazon is building a large new distribution center in the portion of Kernersville that is in Guilford County and creating about 1,000 new jobs.
Guilford County did see a recent setback: VF Corp announced it’s moving its corporate headquarters to Denver – however, the fact that a large VF spinoff jeanswear company will be headquartered in Greensboro helped soften the blow a little.
At the luncheon, Cooper thanked all the parties and spoke about other great things now happening in North Carolina.
“I am excited about this announcement today, but it took a lot of work by a lot of people,” the governor said. “And it took teamwork.”
He thanked, by name, many state and local officials, as well as some in the private sector. The governor also thanked the state legislature and the community colleges for their support of the Publix project.
“They all played a role in this announcement,” Cooper said.
“Just remember,” he added, “this is the beginning of our relationship with Publix and we need to show them that we’re ready for a lot more – a lot more investment, a lot more jobs. And these companies, who are here in the Piedmont, tell other companies about what kind of place it is.”
In his very optimistic speech, Cooper said there were more great things to come for Guilford County and the state, and he added that he expected additional “strong economic development in the Piedmont area.”
He also said events like the new Publix announcement for Greensboro were causing corporate leaders everywhere to take note of North Carolina as a great place to locate.
“I believe we need to tell everyone across the country and across the world that North Carolina is open for business,” he said, adding that this state’s “diversity” is its strength. Cooper said it is a fact that companies with more diverse workforces have higher profits.
“When we send a message across the state, across the country, across the world, we want people to know that they are welcome here,” the governor said.
“I think it’s important, too, that we tell companies like Publix that North Carolina is not going to rest on our laurels – that we understand that this is a fast moving workforce and that innovation is coming rapidly,” he said.
The governor gave Publix Senior Vice President of Manufacturing Mike Smith a plate of fine china with the state seal on it. Cooper told Smith that, though the plate is fine China, it is “fitting for barbeque,” a line that got the governor a good laugh.
Smith said everyone had helped make it an easy decision.
“We’re excited to be here,” he said, adding that Publix has a policy of supporting the communities it’s in, and prides itself on providing well paying jobs and offering strong benefits such as a stock sharing program for Publix employees.
He said the distribution center will increase the company’s presence in North Carolina and will be an important addition to the 38 stores they already operate in the state.
Smith told the packed room that his company had brought Publix ice cream for everyone and it would be available in the hallway after the lunch, which of course was an easy successful applause line.
Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President Brent Christensen said in his remarks that he was very excited about the Publix announcement but he added that someone had already said to him that morning, “Now you have to come up and do this every year. And setting the bar at a 1,000 jobs is a little tough, but it’s a great challenge to have.”
The Stanley Frank Economic Leadership Award went to Donna Newton, director of the Triad Workforce Solutions Collaborative, and Tammy Simmons, vice president of Whitsett-based Machine Specialties.
The award goes to area leaders in economic development who’ve worked toward building a better Greensboro and Guilford County.
“Honestly, that description undersells what today’s winners have done,” Christensen said.
Christensen also spoke about a new area fund meant to promote business growth – the First Launch Capital Fund LLC – that will invest seed money in area companies. He said the goal was to raise $2.5 million and the fund had already wrapped up the first $500,000 round of investing.
Christensen also recognized Sprit Airlines for adding new flights at Piedmont Triad International Airport. One lucky winner at the event would win free flights on the airline as part of a drawing.
Local education always plays a big role in the State of the Community address and this year Superintendent of Guilford County Schools Sharon Contreras honored the system’s most improved high school – Southwest Guilford.
Some of Cooper’s remarks at the luncheon tied in with Contreras’ points on the importance of educating workers for future jobs. The governor said he told a high school class recently that half the jobs they would get in the future hadn’t even been invented yet. He said that meant the state needed to increase its investment in education – from the time a child enters preschool until he or she graduates from college.
“Our community and our universities all are on the front lines of economic improvement and training our workforce,” Cooper said.
He also said state leaders were working hard to coordinate those efforts and were seeking employer input on workforce needs so that state schools and colleges are preparing the work force for the right jobs.
Cooper also said the state now offers “finish line” grants for students who are trying to finish school but that effort is threatened by some life event. For instance, if a student has a major car repair bill or child care bills that hinders his or her ability to pay to finish their education, public funds will help the student finish.