Business North Carolina October 2022

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HOW SOUTH STREET PARTNERS STROKED KIAWAH AND THE CLIFFS GENE THERAPY’S BIG PAYOFF • THE GIPSONS’ PARK PASSION • JIM BABB’S NEWSY STORY

2021

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+ DEPARTMENTS 4 UP FRONT 6 PILLARS OF N.C.

Local TV and radio stations across the nation thrived under the effective leadership of Jim Babb.

OCTOBER 2022

12 NC TREND

The Gipsons’ love for Raleigh promises to pay off at the park; Getting back on the bus; Wilmington debates how to revitalize a key downtown block; Menthol cigarettes may soon burn out; What you missed from the N.C. Tribune.

80 GREEN SHOOTS

Whirligigs spin off a revived energy in downtown Wilson.

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COVER STORY

TRAILBLAZERS Profiles of leaders under 40 who are stepping up to improve some of the state’s smaller cities. BY ALYSSA PRESSLER, DAVID MILDENBERG, EBONY MORMAN & COLIN CAMPBELL

41 ROUND TABLE: DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS Civil unrest in recent years creates opportunity for visionary companies to make key strides.

50 N.C. PORTRAIT: FAMILY BUSINESS Carolina Biological Supply’s story.

66 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: TRAINING THE WORKFORCE

LIVING LARGE South Street Partners show expert timing as demand for elite property cascades. BY DAVID DYKES & DAVID MILDENBERG

North Carolina takes a proactive approach to creating an abundant labor market.

74 COMMUNITY CLOSE UP: PITT COUNTY Famous for farming, Pitt County cultivates new industries, workers and infrastructure.

DISCOVERY NETWORK AskBio and peers help make the state a leader in highly targeted drug development. BY MIKE MACMILLAN

October 2022, Vol. 42, No. 10 (ISSN 0279-4276). Business North Carolina is published monthly by Business North Carolina at 1230 West Morehead Street, Suite 308, Charlotte, NC 28208. Phone: 704-523-6987. Fax: 704-523-4211. All contents copyright © by Old North State Magazines LLC. Subscription rate: 1 year, $30. For change of address, send mailing label and allow six to eight weeks. Periodicals postage paid at Charlotte, NC, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to BUSINESS NORTH CAROLINA, 1230 West Morehead Street, Suite 308, Charlotte, NC 28208 or email circulation@businessnc.com.

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UPFRONT

Colin Campbell

UNEXPECTED TOURISM

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any of us opted to vacation closer to home during the COVID years, skipping trips to big cities and foreign countries to do some socially distanced exploring here in North Carolina. I’ve been everywhere from Burnsville to Buxton and haven’t been bored by my lack of air travel. So it comes as no surprise that visitor spending increased last year in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, a strong sign that our tourism economy isn’t limited to the most popular destinations. Overall, spending gained 45% in 2021 compared with 2020, according to data released in August by the N.C. Department of Commerce. But the biggest growers included some surprises: Tiny Gates County, along the Virginia border, had the biggest percentage increase over 2020 at 83.4%. It beat out Buncombe County (Asheville), which ranked No. 2. Of course, Buncombe’s $2.6 billion in 2021 visitor spending far exceeded the $9.4 million spent in Gates. The call of the mountains also helped Buncombe net more tourism dollars than larger Wake County for the first time, although that could change as business travel returns this year. For places with a relatively small tourism economy — and Gates County doesn’t even have a hotel — it doesn’t take much to move the needle. A few more Airbnb properties serving visitors to the lovely Merchants Millpond State Park might have triggered the jump. There's one called "Dome Sweet Dome," because you stay inside a dome. I hiked at the state park last fall and bought some coffee beans from Gates-based Corner High Coffee in the park gift shop, so I can take $10 worth of credit for the Gates tourism boom. Gates County isn’t the only surprise in the top 10 for 2021 visitor spending growth (at least if you’re going by percentages). So here’s the rest of that list, and my speculation as to the attraction that’s drawing more visitors. Each county saw an increase of at least 60% over the previous year.

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3. Beaufort County: Bath was North Carolina’s first town, and who doesn’t love touring buildings that are nearly 300 years old? 4. Moore County: Sure, Pinehurst has some of the nation’s top golf courses, but have you checked out the cool Country Bookshop in Southern Pines that just happens to be owned by the same company as this magazine? 5. Alexander County: The Hiddenite Arts & Heritage Center lets you explore sprawling museum exhibits full of antiques, gems and local art in the old Lucas Mansion. 6. Cabarrus County: Mount Pleasant is home to Southern Grace Distilleries. It’s located in an old prison and they offer “whiskey prison tours.” 7. Perquimans County: When I drove through here a few years ago, a man selling melons on the street sent me to eat at Story’s Seafood on the outskirts of Hertford. 8. Bertie County: Windsor might be the only town in the state where you can camp out in a treehouse on the Cashie River and then take a walk to grab barbecue at Bunn’s.

V O L U M E 4 2 , N O. 1 0 PUBLISHER

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Cathy Martin

cmartin@businessnc.com SENIOR CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Edward Martin

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CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

David Dykes, Connie Gentry, Audrey Knaack, Mike MacMillan, Anna Mason, Alyssa Pressler, Emory Rakestraw CREATIVE DIRECTOR

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ADVERTISING SALES ACCOUNT DIRECTOR

Melanie Weaver Lynch, eastern N.C. 919-855-9380 mweaver@businessnc.com

ACCOUNT MANAGER AND AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT SPECIALIST

Scott Leonard, western N.C.

9. Randolph County: Take the scenic route to the N.C. Zoo and you might pass through the ghost mill town of Coleridge. The old company store, bank and mill building look much as they did nearly a century ago. 10. Madison County: Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery has restored the old Mars Hill Theater, and they still show movies regularly but with craft beer.

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JIM BABB A veteran broadcaster’s innovative career.

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im Babb may owe his career in journalism and broadcasting to Dilworth Highlights and Headlines, the student newspaper at his Charlotte elementary school. Since then, he’s been devoted to telling stories and forwarding the television and radio industry. Born in Manhattan, Babb and his family moved to Charlotte in 1937. In high school, he was a sports correspondent for The Charlotte News and The Charlotte Observer. He attended Newberry College on a football scholarship for one semester, then switched to UNC Chapel Hill to study journalism. Unable to afford tuition, he left after two years and joined the Army. A lieutenant noticed his love for writing and helped him land a public information job covering sports at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. After completing his military obligation, Babb earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Belmont Abbey College in 1959. His first job

Jim and Mary Lou Babb with four of their six grandchildren in Linville.

at Charlotte’s WBTV required him to write promotional articles about TV personalities. The station had been in business for 10 years at that time. He met his wife, Mary Lou, while hand-delivering the stories to the Charlotte Observer, where she wrote for the “women’s pages.” He spent the next three decades with WBTV and its owner, Greensboro-based Jefferson-Pilot Broadcasting. He was the station’s general manager in the mid-1970s, then became an executive vice president in 1978 and the broadcaster’s CEO in 1988. A tiff with longtime Jefferson-Pilot CEO Roger Soles prompted his departure in 1991. He promptly became president of Outlet Communications, a smaller TV and radio broadcaster owned by private-equity investors. He commuted to Outlet’s Providence, Rhode Island, headquarters for five years before the company’s three TV stations were sold to NBC for more than $310 million. He ended his career in 2018 as executive vice president at Charlottebased Bahakel Communications. His accolades include an Emmy Award for lifetime achievement from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and an induction into the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Babb, 90, served as president of the state broadcasters association and chaired boards connected to the National Association of Broadcasters and YMCA of Central Carolinas. He has been a trustee at Appalachian State University, UNC Charlotte and Belmont Abbey, and he is a former member of the board of governors of the UNC System. When the Arts and Sciences Council of Charlotte ran its first $1 million fundraising campaign in 1982, Babb led the committee. Jim and Mary Lou, married for 63 years, have five children and six grandchildren. Babb stays active promoting higher education through the Coalition for Carolina and Higher Ed Works and supporting Democrat politicians. The couple split their time between homes in Charlotte and Linville.

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF JIM BABB.

By Vanessa Infanzon

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Babb’s work at CBS affiliate WBTV connected him to industry leaders including Walter Cronkite, middle of photo above, at the famous anchorman’s 1981 retirement dinner at The Four Seasons in New York City; At right, Babb is with fellow broadcaster Lewis Wall and CW Network CEO Mark Pedowitz at the annual meeting of the CW TV network in New York.

Comments are edited for length and clarity. The story that got the most attention is one I wrote at Fort Jackson about the football team. The football coach was a guy by the name of Beattie Feathers. It was an induction center. All these good athletes would come in and they could keep them right there at Fort Jackson. I wrote the story and sent it to Jack Claiborne, who was working at the [Charlotte] Observer’s sports department then. Jack put it on the wire. It ran all over the Southeast. (Babb was a high school friend of Claiborne, who had a long Observer career.)

PHOTOS COURTESY OF JIM BABB.

The story got surprisingly big play. I was shocked. Two days later, I get called in by the captain: “The general wants to see us.” We hustle over there. I’m still a Private E1. Gen. Daly says, “You got me in trouble with Gen. Bolling; it’s that story you wrote. It ran in the Atlanta Journal and he read it. He’s mad as hell I’m keeping all the good football players. Don’t send out any more stories like that.” It was the first time I’d ever been criticized for doing a good job. Ironically, even though Jefferson-Pilot loaned money to all kinds of broadcasters all across the country, they were more conservative with their own company. We had to do organic growth. We grew from one radio station in Charlotte, WBT, [then added WBT FM]. Originally FM was a big money loser for everyone as we transitioned from AM. We bought stations in Atlanta, Miami and Denver. Those all proved to be very successful. Then we bought radio stations in San Diego. Back in 1968, things were really getting complicated in keeping inventory [of advertising spots] and scheduling. I didn’t know a thing

about computers then, or now, but I knew we needed a better system to handle our inventory. We just had a Mylar board with a grease pen. I was having lunch with Charlie Crutchfield, the president of Jefferson-Pilot, at Quail Hollow. I think they just had a tent back then before the clubhouse. I said, “We have to get a better system. We’ve got to look into computers.” We assigned an engineer to head up the computer operations in Charlotte originally, then we did it for the other stations. Everyone was having the same problems. We launched Jefferson Data Systems in 1968, and it grew quite well. We bought a company in Australia and one in New York that dealt with advertising agencies. It was backroom operations, contracts, inventory control. We grew it into a $50 million company. We started Jefferson Production Company back in the 1960s. We had a successful program called, Arthur Smith and the CrackerO C T O B E R

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Babb with longtime friend and colleague John Hutchinson at Broadcast Music Inc.’s annual dinner in Las Vegas. Babb, a former UNC Charlotte trustee, at an event honoring Dr. Bonnie Cone. James Corden, host of ‘The Late Show,’ Amy Liz Pittenger Collins of Charlotte’s Bahakel Communications and Babb.

jacks. They were great entertainers and Arthur was a smart businessman. The show became so successful, Procter & Gamble wanted to run it in other Southern markets. It ran in 35 markets. Then they started producing national commercials. We also had a remote truck to produce sports events like NFL games for CBS. After a while, the competition and the method of producing commercials changed and became less and less profitable. By 1980, we moved from producing commercials to getting rights to sports events. In 1982, we got the rights to what was then one of the top sports events in the country, ACC basketball. Then we got the rights to ACC football. We launched the ACC Football Network. We did a partnership with Raycom Sports in 1982 and we made a bid for $18 million for three years [for ACC basketball]. No one had seen anything like it in the sports syndication business. It shook the business.

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Roger Soles was the chairman and president of the company for much of the time I was there. He was very conservative. It was a challenge, to be honest with you. [I said I would work for Outlet Communications] for two years until we could get someone else installed. It turned out to be the best experience I ever had in business. They were a very successful group of investors. They couldn’t have been better to me. I recommended they buy the Raleigh station [WNCN] and convert it to a CBS station, which I was able to do. I never made a recommendation or request that they turned down during the entire period. That’s the reason I stayed almost five years. There’s a new group being formed called Majority Rising North Carolina. We are trying to overturn some Senate districts to try to get a little more balance in the North Carolina legislature. ■

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RECOVERY AND THE PATH FORWARD: BEST PRACTICES FOR NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS Local PNC leader reflects on best practices to help nonprofit boards meet today’s unique challenges. This is the twenty-second in a series of informative monthly articles for North Carolina businesses from PNC in collaboration with BUSINESS NORTH CAROLINA magazine.

North Carolina’s 40,000+ charitable nonprofits play a crucial role in delivering services, resources and education throughout local communities – while also creating lift and impact for the state’s economy and workforce. According to the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, organizations in the nonprofit sector pay more than $19 billion in wages to North Carolinians annually. In total, nonprofits put $56 billion in revenue back into the state’s economy each year – and the life-changing impact they provide cannot be overstated, particularly when reflecting on the personal and economic hardships and disruptions that have arisen in recent years. Unpredictable markets, increased reliance on philanthropy and complex regulatory requirements are among the challenges nonprofits face today – all while being asked to expand their impact with fewer resources. As a result, many nonprofits are reevaluating their business models by establishing or strengthening long-term asset pools (“rainy-day funds”) and reinvigorating fundraising and donor education efforts. As nonprofits throughout North Carolina continue on the path to recovery and emerge from the pandemic, Winston-Salem-based Henri Cancio-Fitzgerald, senior vice president and managing director of nonprofit solutions for PNC Institutional Asset Management®, provides insights on selected trends and best practices in the nonprofit sector.

nonprofit leaders are increasingly communicating to funders the benefits of unrestricted or less restricted funding. “This could be as simple as explaining the differences between restricted and unrestricted giving and the impact that the type of funding has on the organization and its mission,” says Cancio-Fitzgerald. More unrestricted dollars reflects a stronger organization from a financial health perspective, and can, in turn, lower the cost of borrowing, affording the organization more financial flexibility. Restricted funds can be limiting and even jeopardizing to a nonprofit organization. Take, for example, an organization with a very large endowment that was forced to make a special donor appeal during the pandemic because the endowment was largely restricted. The unanticipated expenses brought on by the pandemic left the organization with insufficient budget flexibility to optimize operations. This cautionary tale is a great case study in the need for unrestricted assets. By making the donor an “insider,” organizations are better positioned to make the case for unrestricted giving. “With the events of recent years prompting nonprofits to revisit their identities, development strategies and business models, unrestricted funding can help fund capacity building efforts and education that can help organizations become more resilient,” he says.

SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY UNRESTRICTED GIVING AND TRUST-BASED PHILANTHROPY Among the emerging trends shaping the nationwide philanthropic landscape is the uptick in unrestricted giving and trust-based philanthropy. While this type of funding represents a departure from the norm for many donors,

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A reserve fund is a best practice for any organization, but it can be difficult to build due to donors’ preferences to fund capital projects and mission-specific initiatives. “While there is no one-size-fits-all answer in terms of how much an organization should have in a reserve fund, aiming for 3-6 months of operating expenses is generally a good place to

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start,” says Cancio-Fitzgerald. And for endowments, having 2x the annual operating budget is the industry standard. “While building this reserve through fundraising is typically challenging, events of the past few years may make donors more receptive to the idea,” he says. One way to navigate this challenge is with scenario analysis. Running a model using various scenarios and assumptions over a 5-, 10-, and 15-year timeline can make a compelling case. For organizations with excess cash, starting a rainyday fund with a goals-based investment approach could provide stability during future unforeseen events and help the organization be positioned to take advantage of strategic investment opportunities. “A first step is to define the organization’s financial goals – for example, attaining a certain level of net assets, providing a specific level of budget funding through annual distributions from an investment pool, or obtaining some liquidity target,” says Cancio-Fitzgerald.

PRIVATE DONORS/FUNDS The distribution of high-profile gifts from mega donors and the relatively recent public availability of IRS Form 990 information support the premise that organizations could be in the process of being considered for funding without their knowledge. Because organizations may not be aware they are being evaluated, it is important they can be readily found during a private donor’s research. “Clear, concise reporting of an organization’s impact metrics is crucial to attracting donors and mega donors alike,” says Cancio-Fitzgerald. “Making these metrics readily available on the organization’s web site and in its annual report will allow it to effectively illustrate the impact of each dollar spent. An organization should ask itself, ‘Can a potential donor quickly and easily determine how additional assets could positively affect the community, constituents or cause? If the answer is no, organizations should reevaluate the key performance indicators they measure and share.”

For more information, please visit www.pnc.com/nonprofits or contact Henri Cancio-Fitzgerald at 704-551-2843 or henri.fitzgerald@pnc.com.

REGIONAL PRESIDENTS: Weston Andress, Western Carolinas: (704) 643-5581 Jim Hansen, Eastern Carolinas: (919) 835-0135

The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (“PNC”) uses the marketing name PNC Institutional Asset Management® for the various discretionary and non-discretionary institutional investment, trustee, custody, consulting, and related services provided by PNC Bank, National Association (“PNC Bank”), which is a Member FDIC, and investment management activities conducted by PNC Capital Advisors, LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser and wholly-owned subsidiary of PNC Bank. PNC does not provide legal, tax, or accounting advice unless, with respect to tax advice, PNC Bank has entered into a written tax services agreement. PNC Bank is not registered as a municipal advisor under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. “PNC Institutional Asset Management” is a registered mark of The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. Investments: Not FDIC Insured. No Bank Guarantee. May Lose Value. ©2022 The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved. O C T O B E R

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Redevelopment

Redevelopment Travel Real estate Manufacturing N.C. Tribune Statewide

PLATINUM PLAY

A Raleigh family helps create a space expected to draw 1 million annual visitors. By Connie Gentry

om and Pat Gipson are folks you want to sit with and swap stories about why North Carolina is a great place to raise a family and build a business. Soft-spoken and unassuming, the Gipsons recently wrote a $10 million check for a playground. Not just any playground, however. The Gipson Play Plaza at Raleigh’s Dix Park promises to be among the most enchanting public playgrounds in the Southeast, potentially attracting more than 1 million visitors annually after its expected opening in mid-2024. The 18.5 acres is among the first steps in the dramatic reinvention of 308 acres near downtown Raleigh that for more than 150 years was home to Dorothea Dix Hospital, the state’s first mental health facility. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has its main offices in the historic buildings, but it’s expected to move to a new facility on Blue Ridge Road when its lease expires in 2025. Raleigh bought the land from the state for $52 million in 2015. The play plaza will serve as the gateway into an expansive park to be developed over the next decade. It will feature a waterfall wall, climbing towers, a bevy of swings facing the city skyline, slides and playground accessories. Its signature plaza will host festivals and performances and be set amid lush gardens and green spaces. And it will be free, thanks to a $67 million public-private investment that entails $20 million from the Dix Park Conservancy, including the Gipsons’ donation, and $12 million from the city of Raleigh. The remaining $35 million is expected to be funded through the Raleigh parks bond that’s on the ballot on Nov. 8. Dix Park is slated to receive 15% of the $275 million bond, which will fund 20 projects in parks across the city. “What could we possibly do for the city of Raleigh that would be more meaningful than this? This is the most incredibly designed piece of land in the state and to support it is an incredible opportunity,” Tom Gipson says.

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The gift was made possible by a successful homebuilding business founded in 1976. Gipson made his mark by offering an alternative to the traditional two-story Williamsburg-design homes dotting much of Raleigh. “One of the things I learned at Wharton [he earned an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school] was to bring something unique to market. So I built my business doing homes that were more contemporary and that had basements when nobody else was doing basements,” he says. While other builders only wanted flat lots, the Monticello, New York, native often paid lower prices for slopes that would enable walkout basements. “All of our wealth is from our success in Raleigh. I did well in the building business, even better investing my profits, and earned all of my money here,” he says. The North Raleigh couple’s five children each graduated from Millbrook High School and have cumulatively earned 11 college degrees. “This city provided an environment for us to raise our children in a way that has helped them become the successful people they are. That makes you want to give back to the city.” His homes were initially priced at the higher end of the market, which was about $100,000 in the late ’70s and ’80s. When the housing economy plummeted in 2008, he was still building finer homes, but at much higher prices. At the height of the recession, “I was spending $1.2 million building spec homes that would maybe sell for a million,” he says. That math didn’t work, but Gipson had made enough money that he could close his business and focus on investing and giving back. “It was a blessing to me that the economy made my business not make a lot of sense.” Thomas Gipson Homes built about 1,000 homes, primarily in Raleigh and Cary in Wake County, with a few others around the Triangle and at Lake Gaston.

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The renderings for Gipson Play Plaza at Dix Park include a waterfall and climbing tower. Both are slated to be central attractions.

But it’s the 3,000-plus Habitat for Humanity homes around the country that earned Gipson national recognition as a visionary and a community-minded leader. In 2002, he started the Home Builders Blitz program at Wake County’s Habitat chapter. He persuaded 11 other builders to join his company in constructing a dozen homes in five days. The group assembled 24 homes in Raleigh the next year. Influenced by his wife, Gipson helped expand the project to Habitat affiliates around the nation. Weeklong blitzes remain a part of the nonprofit’s work, though the pandemic paused the project.

as providing passive spaces. A few historically significant buildings will be redeveloped as museums, meeting places, restaurants and other uses, but the focus is on expanding green spaces and natural areas. Financial details haven’t been disclosed, but many tens of millions of dollars is likely to be invested, including restoring a chemical-laden creek and other environmental remediation. “People don’t understand the significance of these kinds of parks, what they do for communities, because they haven’t been exposed to this sort of transformational impact of parks in their community,” Cowell says. The play plaza promises to be more like Disney than a typical neighborhood playground, Tom Gipson says. “People from Charlotte won’t drive for their children to play in the sand, but people from Charlotte are going to be coming here to see this — I guarantee that.” The real experts get it: When asked what they want from a playground, a focus group of 5-year-olds told N.C. State University’s Natural Learning Initiative, which is helping with its design: “We want to go to a playground where we can make friends.” Tom and Pat Gipson are excited to help make it happen. “We work hard, we make money, and, after we’re gone, what is left? Beyond your family and kids, it’s nice to have made a difference,” Tom Gipson says. “This park is a monumental undertaking. It will require a lot of financial help. But it offers a golden opportunity for successful business people to make a difference.” ■

PHOTO CREDIT: JAY CUTT

Unparalleled The couple have long been involved in the Dix Park Conservancy, a nonprofit established to work alongside the city to develop a unique venue. Their previous donations total $1.2 million. “It’s the proximity to downtown that makes this an unparalleled opportunity,” says Janet Cowell, the former state treasurer who is the nonprofit’s CEO. “No other place has this much acreage within half a mile of the state Capitol; it’s like a 19th-century park that is just sitting there preserved.” She cites comparable parks as the Presidio in San Francisco, Governor’s Island in New York City and the Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which had more than 1 million visitors in its first year after opening in 2018. The Gipson playground is designed by the same New York-based firm that worked in Tulsa, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. London’s Balfour Beatty and Raleigh-based Holt Brothers Construction are the contractors. “It was 106 degrees when we visited [Tulsa] and they had 6,000 people in the park that day, which tells you how well-designed these spaces are,” Cowell says. “The amount of thought that goes into the planning — it’s everything from the sun shades over a slide to the plantings that make it feel like you’re in a garden.” Cowell estimates more than 350,000 people already visit Dix Park each year, many for festivals or to visit a 4-acre sunflower field. The broader park is aimed at encouraging community interaction as well

DIX PARK’S HISTORY 1700s -1800s

Spring Hill Plantation occupies the site

1820

Theophilus Hunter Plantation house built

1856 - 2012

Dorothea Dix Hospital operates as a state mental hospital

2012

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services offices move to the park

2015

City of Raleigh buys the 308-acre site

2016

Dix Park Conservancy formed

February 2019

City approves Dix Park master plan

April 2019

Dreamville Music Festival attracts 40,000

August 2022

Groundbreaking for Gipson Play Plaza

Mid-2024

Expected plaza opening

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Travel

ALL ABOARD

Charter bus operators report a return to the road. By Anna Mason

Four motorcoach companies that charter buses for short trips

North Carolina’s motorcoach business. After all, a

and multiday tours are dominant in North Carolina: Christian Tours

central message of the crisis was simple: “Stop getting

of Maiden, Randleman-based Holiday Tours, Young Transportation

together in large groups,” says Jonathan Moody, an

and Tours of Asheville, and Academy, a Hoboken, New Jersey-based

executive at one of the state’s largest operators. Two and a half years later, COVID-19 restrictions have

chain that has Charlotte and Durham offices. Nancy Thompson, the co-founder of Holiday Tours, started in

eased, and the industry is mounting a strong rebound. Access to

the motorcoach business as an agent for an Asheboro operator. One

vaccinations and less fear of proximity to others has customers

of the drivers, Dwight Thompson, told her that if she bought a bus

getting back on the bus.

for her own service, he’d drive it. That was in 1978. Since then, the

The motorcoach industry is more than a blip on the radar. Before the pandemic, North Carolina bus operators employed about 2,000

couple got married and two later generations of family members have built a business that had more than 300 employees in early 2020.

people and had a direct economic impact of more than $326 million,

Jonathan Moody is a vice president and grandson of Nancy,

according to an industry study. The downstream impact for suppliers

who is now retired but takes periodic tours. He joined in 2011 after

and others nearly doubles that total.

earning a master’s degree in management at Duke University. CEO

Nationally, the industry provided more than 500 million trips annually, before the virus forced a shutdown. Traveling by motorcoach is about more than dollar signs,

David Brown is Nancy’s son. When the pandemic struck, Holiday canceled its spring and summer seasons in 2020 and furloughed virtually its entire staff.

industry officials say. They cite an incalculable effect as a

“We always knew or hoped we’d be able to come back. We were just

cornerstone of community activity because chartered buses provide

worried about the condition in which we’d be able to come back,”

transportation for schools, athletes, churches, military, conventions

Moody says.

and other groups. The industry also calls itself the greenest form of transportation because it gets so many cars off the road.

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Fast forward to September 2022, and the business is back up to 225 staff members with strong bookings for the rest of this year.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF HOLIDAY TOURS

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lmost as much as any industry, the pandemic slammed

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Although revenue is not quite back to pre-pandemic figures, demand for motorcoach services continues to rise. Trips for college and secondary-school athletics and field

Love for the business and family loyalty have been central to getting Holiday Tours through its biggest challenge to date, but Moody says headwinds remain. Gas prices have shot up and hotels

trips were the first types of clients to return to travel in 2021, says

and restaurants are charging 30% to 40% more, on average, than

Ken Presley, vice president and chief operating officer of United

before the pandemic. That has forced Holiday to pass along higher

Motorcoach Association, a trade group. “[This year] continues to

prices to its customers.

see recovery on the charter service side,” he says. “Tour packages are beginning to return, particularly for seniors.” Unlike in some other states, field trips in North Carolina weren’t

Moody concludes the pandemic helped him put the worries and stress of his work in perspective. During the height of the crisis, he often longed to be back at his desk dealing with the routine tasks

permitted until this past spring because of state government public

of running a bus company. “The usual stress of business is mildly

health restrictions.

enjoyable now, compared to the stress we felt through 2020.” ■

Moody credits Holiday’s resilience to a core tenet of the business. “People love traveling with people they know, to see new places.”

Holiday Tours in Randleman; Jonathan and David Moody, 2019; founders Dwight and Nancy Thompson, 1978.

DRIVING GROWTH PHOTOS COURTESY OF HOLIDAY TOURS

Fast facts on the N.C. motorcoach industry in 2019

2,073 Employees $144.9 MILLION Employee wages $102.8 MILLION Federal, state and local tax revenue, including suppliers source: American Bus Association Foundation

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Real estate

SAVING GRACE

A transformational redevelopment in Wilmington has some asking, “At what cost?”

or years, many Wilmington leaders have wanted to put a new shine on a 3-acre downtown block that includes an aging public library and parking deck and a historic former car dealership building. New Hanover County Commission Vice Chair Deb Hays, says what has become Project Grace has the potential to create a transformational learning and cultural hub to showcase the city’s rich history. “This is a complete revitalization of an entire downtown block, currently a blighted block, and an investment in the future of all our citizens,” she says of the property, which is owned by New Hanover County. The site is two blocks from the Cape Fear River and bordered by Chestnut, Grace, Second and Third streets. While the effort has significant community support, some bumps in the road have emerged. One issue is the county’s decision to develop Project Grace as a public-private venture instead of a more traditional public project. In 2018, “request for qualifications” were sent to about 1,000 entities including developers, architects, lawyers, engineers and investors. The goal was to attract lots of enthusiasm for a multiuse development anchored by a new library and relocated Cape Fear Museum of History and Science. “One of New Hanover County’s strategic goals is to leverage public infrastructure to encourage private investment. We began contemplating how to better serve our residents and visitors with purpose-built facilities,” County Manager Chris Coudriet says.

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But the mass mailings culminated in only one full “request for proposal” that would create a public-private partnership for the project. It came from a business owned by one of Wilmington’s wealthiest families. Zimmer Development has completed more than $3 billion of projects in 140 cities. Another unnamed group showed interest but didn’t submit a proposal, Coudriet says. Zimmer went to work, spending hundreds of hours collaborating with residents and local officials amid the COVID pandemic. Project Grace now calls for an $80 million public library and museum to replace the existing site, with the city paying Zimmer a lease of $4 million annually for 20 years. Additionally, the developer plans 100 apartment units, a 150-room hotel and 10,000 square feet of retail space. The existing 620-space parking deck would be improved in the proposal. All seemed to be moving ahead until August, when the N.C. Local Government Commission reviewed the county’s application for the plan. It included a clause that State Treasurer Dale Folwell deemed objectionable: If the commission didn’t approve the project, New Hanover would have to buy Zimmer’s development plans for $2.5 million. “When a governing body passes a resolution that hand cuffs another governing body, that raises a red flag with anyone,” Folwell says. The commission is a division of the treasurer’s office. Zimmer’s work on the project entailed a great expense and a lot of effort, making the agreement necessary, the company’s development director, Adam Tucker, told the LGC in August.

PHOT0 COURTESY OF LS3P ASSOCIATES

By Emory Rakestraw

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Diana Hill, who leads the library group, favors redevelopment rather than new construction. She cites the recent $44 million renovation of Durham’s downtown library. Her group attracted nearly 500 supporters. But Coudriet says Project Grace ensures public benefits and can add housing for middle-income workers in a highly sought-after market. The county has experience in public-private partnerships as it is redeveloping its government center with Arlington, Virginia-based Stonewater. The project, which the LGC approved in early 2021, is expected to open late this year. The new library will include two outdoor reading terraces, programs for children and adults, and shared multipurpose space. The museum will feature a planetarium and a theater, outdoor space and room for traveling exhibits. “Our library and museum staff have dedicated a lot of time and research with the project’s design team to ensure this public facility meets their service and operational needs and provides the right design for future growth and opportunities,” says Comissioner Hays. “Our team has thoughtfully considered the best use of the space to ensure that it accomplishes the county’s goals to best serve the community.” County commissioners hope the LGC will greenlight the project, enabling construction to start next year and the doors to open in mid-2024. Officials with Zimmer Development declined requests for comment for this story. ■

PHOT0 COURTESY OF LS3P ASSOCIATES

When commission members asked why Wilmington city officials didn’t undertake the project by using conventional financing, Assistant County Manager Lisa Wurzbacher cited the potential for more than $20 million in property, sales and room taxes over the next 20 years because of the private ownership. While North Carolina municipalities can arrange lower-interest financing than private developers, she said, the difference in overall costs wasn’t significant compared with the benefits from partnering with Zimmer. The Wilmington officials presenting Project Grace to the LGC didn’t officially ask for approval, so the issue was pending as of midSeptember. Folwell remains leery, citing the $2.5 million clause and dependence on private funding. “New Hanover County is one of the most economically prosperous counties in the United States,” he says. “They can borrow money for cheaper than most. It makes me think, why do you need a partner?” Meanwhile, other opposition to the project has arisen from the Historic Wilmington Foundation and the Save Our Main Library group. Plans call for replacing the 1926 Borst building, first used as a Chrysler dealership, and the library, which was a Belk Beery department store. That could lead to an exclusion of preservation tax credits, which include a 20% federal credit for income-producing properties, the foundation says.

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Manufacturing

CHECKOUT TIME FOR MENTHOLS?

A popular Tar Heel-made product eyes a controversial demise. By Audrey Knaack

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after the industry shifted to marketing the cigarettes to Black communities in the 1960s through billboard advertising and event promotions. Cigarette manufacturer Brown and Williamson “began aggressively advertising Kool cigarettes in Black communities, and because of the popularity, growth and success of their strategy, other companies joined in,” Wailoo says in an interview on Princeton’s website. Kool was then the dominant menthol brand. “What you begin to see in the ‘60s and the 1970s is a kind of intensive competition to garner and to control their Black franchise.” In the 1980s, New York-based Lorillard Tobacco started advertising its Newport brand — made at the company’s Greensboro factory — mainly in Black neighborhoods in bigger U.S. cities. It quickly overtook Kool in popularity and by 2005, about half of cigarette sales to Black smokers in the U.S. were Newports, according to industry statistics. The brand later rose to No. 2 among all cigarettes, trailing Altria’s Marlboro. R.J. Reynolds paid $27 billion to buy Lorillard in 2015, before the historic N.C. company was acquired by British-American. When the FDA was granted regulatory oversight of tobacco

PHOT0 CREDIT: MIKAEL SEEGAN FOR UNSPLASH

he latest blow to strike North Carolina’s tobacco industry may be a forthcoming Food and Drug Administration ban on the use of the menthol additive for cigarettes. The change, which was pending at press time, promises to make a big mark because menthol cigarettes make up about 37% of U.S. sales. Moreover, the best-selling menthol brand, Newport, is a primary brand of Winston-Salem-based Reynolds American, which is owned by British American Tobacco. Reynolds American sells about 30 billion Newport cigarettes annually, according to the Los Angeles Times. At a 7-Eleven store in Matthews, a pack of Newports listed for $9.15 cents in early September. Found naturally in peppermint, spearmint and other mint plants, menthol is a chemical compound that provides a sweet aroma and taste. The cigarettes were first marketed in the 1920s as a “health cigarette” for smokers experiencing throat irritation, says Keith Wailoo, a Princeton University professor who published a book last year, “Pushing Cool,” on the history of the product. Menthols steadily gained popularity over the years, particularly

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products in 2009, the agency banned flavored cigarettes, which critics say enticed younger people to start smoking. But menthol was exempted from the ban, partly because some Black elected officials said Black smokers preferred the product, Wailoo notes. Since then, Massachusetts voters approved a ban on menthol sales, while a vote on a ban is planned in California in November. After President Joe Biden was elected in 2020, his administration decided to attack the issue as part of continued efforts to reduce smoking. In April, the FDA issued proposed rules prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The agency accepted public comments for about three months, prompting 250,000 submissions with about 175,000 favoring the menthol ban, according to the Convenience Store News trade publication. A decision is pending. A Reynolds American spokesperson says the ban isn’t necessary because the company is creating lower-risk products for smokers. It has hired several Black lobbyists and consultants to help oppose the menthol ban, including MSNBC host the Rev. Al Sharpton. They argue that a ban will create a huge underground market for bootleg menthols that could lead to more criminal activity. But the NAACP and other advocacy groups have praised the ban, noting that tobacco-related cancers claim 40,000 Black lives annually with a death rate that is 17% higher than whites, according to a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Center For Black Health and Equity estimates a ban would benefit the majority of smokers who have been trying to quit and help boost the work of smoking cessation groups. Princeton’s Wailoo says menthols are more hazardous because they are “more addictive, and the more addictive the tobacco product, the more likely it is that you’re going to smoke over a longer time, developing the characteristic health problems associated with long-term tobacco consumption — lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease.” ■ O C T O B E R

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N.C. Tribune Our paid daily newsletter provides detailed interviews with key lawmakers, Q&As of other political leaders, and stories on 2022 election news and campaign finance. Plus lots of stories tracking daily happenings at the state legislature.

Nearly $270 million in broadband grants awarded within weeks

Budget mandate kicks off overhaul of massive state government complex

roadband internet expansion efforts took a big leap forward in recent weeks as the N.C. Department of Information Technology awarded $267 million in grants to internet providers, doling out the majority of the $350 million in federal funding allocated by the legislature last year. Lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology got an update on the effort. The grants — by far the largest ever in the program’s history — were announced in three batches as the application process wrapped up, giving internet providers an infusion of funding to expand into areas that lack high-speed internet. Nate Denny, DIT’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, said 92 of the state’s 100 counties are receiving funding. In many of the eight counties not included, the agency didn’t receive project applications. Some of the applications were slowed by protest petitions from other internet providers, some of which argued they were already planning to serve the area included in the application. That prompted questions from legislators who wanted to know if those areas are in danger of missing out if the company that protested doesn’t follow through to offering service.

he recently enacted state budget’s nearly $200 million plan for state government buildings in downtown Raleigh will reshape the area in the coming years. But first it’s triggering a rush to move hundreds of state employees ahead of a series of fast-approaching deadlines. Elected officials have debated ways to modernize the state’s collection of aging office buildings for years, dating back at least to former Gov. Pat McCrory’s “Project Phoenix” idea for mixed-use development. The new plan was developed by budget writers, legislative staffers and Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble with little public deliberation before it was released in June’s budget conference report. It calls for replacing the Administration Building on West Jones Street with a new, $169 million “Education Campus” that will put the UNC System Office under the same roof as the Department of Public Instruction, community college system and Department of Commerce. Senate leader Phil Berger has said he thinks the state’s education and economic development leadership can collaborate more effectively under one roof. The governor’s office, along with a meeting space for the Council of State, will move down the street to a $88 million building to be constructed on the surface parking lot in front of the State Archives building. Construction of those buildings are still years away, but in the meantime, the budget calls for something of a game of musical chairs for state employees. Department of Administration Chief Deputy Secretary Mark Edwards calls the budget deadlines “extremely aggressive,” given the delays the construction industry faces nationwide. As it awaits a new building, the UNC System is subleasing 51,000 square feet of space at The Dillon office building in downtown Raleigh for about $73 per square foot per year. The lease, which includes 154 parking spaces, will run from October through September of 2026.

Campaign Spotlight: House District 9

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istrict 9 is the most competitive legislative district in the Greenville area, as first-term Rep. Brian Farkas seeks to defend the seat he flipped from the GOP in 2020. The Democrat: Farkas works as director of development and client services at the Greenville architecture firm led by his father. His voting record in the legislature is somewhat moderate, and he serves on committees dealing with transportation, community colleges and commerce. The Republican: Tim Reeder is an emergency room doctor, the latest in a series of physicians who have run for or held the same House seat (including U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy). He holds a master’s degree in public health and has held leadership roles in the N.C. Medical Society.

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PHOTO CREDIT: UMBERTO FEW FOR UNSPLASH

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The district: Southern Greenville and Pitt County, including the towns of Winterville, Ayden and Grifton. In 2020, the district voted 51% for President Joe Biden and 53% for Gov. Roy Cooper. Of note: Medical group PACs have donated heavily to Dr. Reeder’s campaign, which has raised $132,000 so far. Farkas has raised about $200,000 this cycle.

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N.C. Legislative Building, Raleigh

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Statewide

PASS THE CHIPS urham-based Wolfspeed picked western Chatham County for a 1,802-job, $5 billion plant to make the materials used in chips that power electric vehicles. It’s the biggest investment for a project receiving state incentives, and the largest plant using silicon carbide to make chips, a technology that Wolfspeed now dominates. Industry analysts expect silicon carbide chips to make up more than 20% of the power semiconductor market by 2027, versus 5% now. Wolfspeed says it will open the first phase of the plant in 2024, with additional expansion to follow. It is to be built on a 445-acre tract at the 1,800-acre Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing Site owned by Greensboro businessmen Tim Booras and D. H. Griffin. It is about 30 miles southeast of Greensboro and within 40 miles of multi-billion plants proposed by Toyota Motor and VinFast, a new Vietnam-based electric vehicle manufacturer. Wolfspeed may save more than $600 million in property tax payouts and other benefits over the next 20 years under an agreement with Chatham County and Siler City. The amount of those incentives hinge on a variety of metrics, including the number of new employees and pay levels. Salaries are expected to average about $78,000 annually. The state also approved an incentives package worth more than $159 million, including a grant worth $76 million if Wolfspeed meets its investment and job targets. State lawmakers allocated $57.5 million to support water, road and other infrastructure work at the project. The city of Asheboro’s water system is being expanded to serve the plant.

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Then there’s Uncle Sam: Wolfspeed is likely to tap the federal government after Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $52 billion to support new chip manufacturing plants in the United States. The company’s proposed investment dwarfs its annual revenues of about $750 million last year. But CEO Gregg Lowe says sales could hit nearly $3 billion by 2026 because of mushrooming demand for chips used in electric vehicles and other products. The company had a market value of about $14.5 billion in mid-September. It says new orders have doubled over the last year for more than 9,000 projects by customers including Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. Wolfspeed employs about 2,500 people in the Triangle and was formerly called Cree, which was founded in 1987 by some N.C. State University graduate students. It was long known for its light-emitting diode technology. Lowe, a longtime Texas Instruments executive who joined the business in 2017, led a restructuring that split off the chip and lighting businesses. Wolfspeed has fabrication plants in Durham and near Utica, New York. The latter $1.2 billion site opened earlier this year, lured by a $500 million incentive pledged by the state of New York. Wolfspeed’s decision “is another milestone in our drive toward a clean energy economy as it will boost electric vehicle manufacturing and offshore wind while fighting climate change and putting money in the pockets of everyday North Carolinians with great paying jobs,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a press release. ■

PHOTO COURTESY OF WOLFSPEED

By David Mildenberg

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CHARLOTTE

CHARLOTTE

HARRISBURG Atrium Health filed a certificate-of-need application for a satellite hospital here. It would cost $85.8 million and be completed in December 2025, according to a state filing.

Driven Brands acquired Auto Glass Fitters for an undisclosed sum. The purchase makes Driven the second-largest player in the U.S. auto glass repair industry. Belk named Don Hendricks as its new CEO. He succeeds Nir Patel, who left earlier this year to become CEO of Gamestop and is being sued by the department store chain. Hendricks joined Belk in 2016. The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 3-2 against Atrium Health’s proposed merger with Advocate Aurora Health, a leading hospital system in Chicago and Milwaukee. But the group said it would reconsider the transaction later. The combination would create one of the biggest U.S. hospital systems with $27 billion in revenue and 67 hospitals in six states.

EAST

FAYETTEVILLE The Public Works Commission says it is considering alternatives to buying power from Duke Energy Progress in an effort to ensure competitive power rates for its customers. It now pays the utility company about $150 million annually.

MOORESVILLE Solar panel installer Pink Energy laid off about 1,000 employees, citing faulty generators made by Generac and distributed by the company. Pink Energy filed a lawsuit against Waukesha, Wisconsin-based Generac, which says poor installation is causing the problems.

GREENVILLE Somerset, New Jersey-based Catalent will purchase Metrics Contract Services, a contract development and manufacturing organization that has a plant here. The transaction was valued at $475 million.

PHOTO COURTESY OF WRAY WARD

NEW BERN

CHARLOTTE

A former Contech Engineered Solutions executive was sentenced to 18 months of prison for fraud schemes and bid-rigging targeting the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Brent Brewbaker was convicted for offenses committed between 2009 and 2018.

The Wray Ward advertising agency said Kent Panther will succeed Jennifer Appleby as president and CEO in January. Appleby, who has been president for 21 years, will become executive chair. Panther joined the 170-employee firm in 2004. O C T O B E R

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Charlotte-based Bojangles on behalf of a former employee who says she was sexually harrassed by a manager at a restaurant here. The company didn’t have an immediate response.

LIBERTY Toyota plans to nearly double its investment in a battery plant in the Greensboro Randolph Megasite which will make the carmaker eligible for as much as $315 million in additional state tax incentives. The initial commitment was about $79 million.

WILMINGTON TRU Colors closed its doors. The local brewery, which employed rival gang members in an effort to promote civility, provided jobs and skills training. But CEO George Taylor says it wasn’t financially viable and was hurt by bad publicity.

TRIAD

Live Oak Bank pledged to add 204 jobs and invest $25 million by 2027 as part of an expansion. The jobs would average more than $101,000 annually. The move makes the locally-based bank eligible for incentive grants totaling more than $2 million.

GREENSBORO British manufacturer Rolls-Royce said it would exit its contract to design engines for Boom Supersonic’s proposed Overture aircraft, noting the supersonic market is not its priority. Boom is planning a $500 million factory at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

Cybersecurity company SaaS Alerts raised $12 million from Insight Partners. The company based here sells its product to managed-service providers.

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HIGH POINT High Point University’s board appointed Chris Henson as chair. He’s a former president of BB&T and a 1983 graduate. The university also received a $30 million donation from insurance executive John Charman and his wife, Lorraine. The main library will be named after the couple.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF TOYOTA, TRU COLORS, BOOM SUPERSONIC, LIVE OAK BANK

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Culp will relocate its mattress cover cut-and-sew operation from High Point to Stokesdale’s Stokes Hill area. The move will enhance efficiency and support the growth of its Haitian operation.

MEBANE Sunlight Batteries USA, which makes lithium-ion and other high-performance batteries, will invest $40 million to expand here. The plans call for more than 130 new jobs.

CHAPEL HILL UNC-Chapel Hill ranks fifth among the nation’s best large public universities, tying with Florida, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual survey. California, UCLA, Michigan and Virginia topped the list.

WINSTON-SALEM Wake Forest researchers will study the implications of COVID-19 related to underrepresented communities. A $3.5 million NIH grant will help research the correlation between the pandemic and opioid use disorder.

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Statewide Winston-Salem nonprofit IFB Solutions promoted Dan Kelly to be chief executive, effective in January. IFB is the largest employer of the blind in the United States, with about 1,000 employees overall and 639 locally.

DURHAM Nonprofit research organization RTI International received a $4 million federal grant to support the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The organization plans to collaborate with Westerville, Ohio-based State Science and Technology Institute.

TRIANGLE

NRP Ventures filed for Chapter 11 restructuring. The company is developing one of the largest housing subdivisions in Johnston County, slated to include 2,005 residential units. The company’s president and sole shareholder, Ray Perkins, Jr., describes the filing as a “pause” in development.

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CHAPEL HILL

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The region’s transit system, GoTriangle, is considering adding a commuter rail along existing train lines from Johnston County to Durham. The project would cost several billion dollars.

Software startup Pendo laid off about 5% of its workforce and slowed its hiring goals. Pendo, a customer analytics platform for product adoption that was valued last year at $2.6 billion, nearly doubled its headcount in 2021 to nearly 1,000 staffers.

BOONE Amy Davis, former finance director and interim town manager here, was named town manager. She’s the town’s first female to hold the post.

WEST ASHEVILLE HCA Healthcare-owned Mission Health plans to invest $22 million in employee pay increases. The increase takes effect immediately and benefits Mission workers throughout western North Carolina.

DURHAM

HENDERSONVILLE The Henderson County board approved more than $10 million in incentives for two projects that are considering a combined $270 million in economic investment and more than 280 jobs here. The companies haven’t been named at press time.

ASHEVILLE Explore Asheville invested $1.3 million in ads and other expenses to become the official tourism partner of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Television viewership of the tournament hit a record, buoyed by Serena Williams’ final performance.

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Avaya dismissed employees in an effort to save more than $200 million annually. The telecommunications firm will continue to cut costs after recently missing a quarterly revenue goal.

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Patrick Melton and South Street Partners show shrewd timing as demand for elite property cascades.

PHOTO CREDIT: NILL SILVER

By David Dykes and David Mildenberg

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PHOTO CREDIT: PATRICK O’BRIEN @ SOUTH STREET PARTNERS

▲ South Street bought Cliffs Communities in 2019, including The Cliffs at Mountain Park near Hendersonville.

atrick Melton and Jordan Phillips didn’t have a lot to lose when they started their South Street Partners real estate enterprise in the recession of 2009. Developers were folding and banks in the Southeast were collapsing, creating opportunities for risk-taking investors that come along rarely. Both men had done well financially by helping develop high-end golf communities for their previous employer, Scottsdale, Arizonabased Discovery Land Company. The graduates of UNC Chapel Hill had supportive, well-known fathers who had enjoyed great success in North Carolina’s financial sector. Thirteen years later, South Street has exceeded expectations, having deployed more than $600 million to become the largest owner of luxury residential club and resort communities in the Southeast with more than $1 billion of assets. The partners, who were later joined by fellow Chapel Hill grads Chris Randolph and Will Culp, have partnered with major investors to acquire a big chunk of South Carolina’s Kiawah Island; seven Cliff Communities golf-oriented developments in the Carolinas mountains; thousands of undeveloped acres in the Southeast assembled by Charlotte investor Robert Pittenger; and a variety of other thriving projects. For Melton, it’s a story of old friends, new alliances and strokes of good fortune coming together at the right time. Increasing popularity of second homes among Baby Boomers and Millennials, along with the pandemic-inspired push to leave dense cities, has sparked huge gains in property values at elite resort properties. “My father-in-law thought I was nuts. But, to me, in this business,

jumping off in a period in the cycle where you can buy low felt like the best strategy,” he says. Had the group launched a couple of years earlier, when prices were peaking, it would have been a very different story. “We kind of bootstrapped it, in terms of just two guys jumping off and starting a company,” Melton, 49, says. “We didn’t have any institutional capital behind us, but we had great relationships with a lot of the institutional groups from our previous careers.”

We kind of bootstrapped it, in terms of just two guys jumping off and starting a company. They have plenty of financial backing now, having developed close ties to major investment companies that typically hold 80% or more of the equity in the properties. It’s a strategy that has enabled South Street to grow rapidly in an industry dominated by public companies or families that have built up wealth, often over two or more generations. The partners regret it now, but they didn’t buy much real estate during their first four years, instead focusing on purchasing distressed debt from some of the era’s many failing developers. They also knocked on doors at many banks, advising the lenders on how to handle nonperforming and foreclosed properties. In retrospect, pulling the trigger on deals when prices were particularly low in 200911 would have paid off handsomely, Melton notes.

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Melton grew up in North Carolina, where his father, Burt, was a senior executive at First Union Bank during its rapid growth period in the 1980s and '90s. The senior Melton was in charge of the bank’s eastern North Carolina region for many years, then led its credit-card business before retiring in 1997. Patrick worked as a consultant for KMPG and Ernst & Young before joining residential developer Terrabrook, which owned about 50 communities across the Sunbelt, including Charlotte’s Highland Creek in northeast Mecklenburg County. It was the region’s No. 1 master-planned community during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Terrabrook later assigned him to an interim chief financial officer job at a Hawaiian project called Kūki‘o, where oceanfront lots were selling for $10 million. He then jumped to Discovery Land, having developed a friendship with its founder, Mike Meldman. One of his initial projects was Mountaintop Golf & Lake Club, which opened in Cashiers, 60 miles southwest of Asheville, in 2004. He later worked on other Discovery properties, including Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Scottsdale. The allure of the job began to fade after his first daughter was born in late 2007. “Moving to Hawaii for a year, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a summer,

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Scottsdale for a winter, with your wife traveling with you, and you’re not on a plane every week, that’s a really enjoyable way to travel,” he said. “After my first daughter was born, that dynamic really shifted.” That’s when Melton and fellow Discovery colleague Phillips, 41, concluded it was time to start their own business. Philips is from High Point, where his dad, Phil Phillips Jr., built a factoring company that was sold to GE Capital Services in 1998. The elder Phillips was a director at First Union from 1988-98 and a longtime trustee at UNC Chapel Hill. Chris Randolph, 42, another Chapel Hill alumnus, joined the duo later in 2009 and was originally based in New York, where he helped develop relationships with various institutional partners. Their years of experience in the real estate business has led to joint ventures with Farallon Capital, Rockpoint Group and other institutional investors that rely on smaller groups to find good deals. He and Phillips live in Charleston, while Melton and Culp are in Charlotte. They consider both cities as company headquarters. “Our whole business model was centered around sort of this elephant hunting, getting these larger transactions and teaming with these big institutional groups where we had the expertise and they had the capital,” Melton says. “These groups want you to have skin in the game and we end up putting a good bit of our money in each and every deal.”

PHOTO CREDITS: PATRICK O’BRIEN @ SOUTH STREET PARTNERS

▲ Kiawah Island Club includes two golf courses. Melton is shown with his daughters at the River Course.

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In early 2013, South Street and King Street acquired Kiawah Partners, the master developer of the South Carolina barrier island, as South Street’s first key strike came in January 2012 when they partnered with New York-based Starwood Capital Group to buy control of the unsold units and bank debt of North Beach Towers in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Measuring 216 feet high and encompassing almost 1 million square feet, the 337-unit North Beach Towers is the largest oceanfront condominium constructed on the Grand Strand. With its Atlantis-like bridged towers and classic Georgian architecture, the project was acclaimed as an architectural landmark. But the project’s timing by original developer David Stradinger proved to be difficult — It broke ground in 2006 and was completed in early 2009, when selling condos in Myrtle Beach was a major challenge. The fact that famed Starwood owner Barry Sternlicht saw value in the property made it an easy decision for South Street to invest, Melton says. During that period, major real-estate investors were only starting to notice Charlotte and Raleigh as good potential investment markets. “Myrtle Beach might as well have been, you know, Fayetteville, from an institutional perspective,” Melton says. “But to Barry Sternlicht’s credit, his team came down and saw the value and jumped on it.” The investment struck gold as demand for Grand Strand real estate soared amid the economic rebound. Condos at the development were listed mainly in the range of $700,000 to $800,000 in mid-September. South Street’s key turning point came several months later, when Melton learned from an old Discovery Land friend that undeveloped portions of Kiawah Island and some other major assets there were going up for sale. Earlier in his career, Melton was involved with oceanfront developments in the Bahamas, Mexico and Hawaii, but he had always wanted a project in the Carolinas. “I would’ve thought I had to go down to the Caribbean to get a 1,000-acre tract of land to go do a high-end oceanfront golf community,” he says. “And so to get a call that says you have the opportunity to become the master developer of Kiawah Island, one of the largest islands on the East Coast, was like a dream come true.” When the call came, Melton and his partners, including Will Culp, 41, who had joined earlier in 2012, were winding down and readying for holiday vacations at ski resorts or islands during the Christmas to New Year’s week. Instead, they worked full-time for two weeks to evaluate the portfolio that included Kiawah, a third of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and an Irish property called Doonbeg. Melton and his group contacted New York-based investment manager King Street, which sent down a team to study the deal and eventually became its main financial backer.

well as Kiawah Island Real Estate and the Kiawah Island Club. South Street declined to disclose the Kiawah property’s purchase price, which was reported at $350 million by some media outlets. The sale was sparked by a dispute among family members including Leonard Long and Charles “Buddy” Darby, who had bought the property from a Kuwaiti investment company in 1988 and expanded it into one of the East Coast’s most prestigious resorts. The sale included about 400 undeveloped lots, the River and Cassique golf courses and other assets. Since the acquisition, South Street has sold hundreds of lots as property values have soared, aided by the increasing prominence of Charleston as a business and tourism hub. Its majestic maritime forestry, ribboning waterways, whispering marsh grasses, and famed fairways have made Kiawah a prized property. To benefit from Kiawah’s popularity, South Street started its Knight Residential Charleston home building company in 2014. It’s now the island’s biggest builder with projects ranging from $1 million to $5 million. The median sales price for a single-family home on Kiawah was $2.75 million in the first half of this year, while cottages sold for a median of $763,000.

▲ South Street Partners Will Culp, Patrick Melton, Jordan Phillips and Chris Randolph.

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▲ Six of the seven Cliffs Communities are in South Carolina, including three near Lake Keowee.

The Kiawah deal included Christophe Harbour, which is the property was later sold to one of its original developers. The Doonbeg golf property in County Clare, Ireland, was sold to a company led by Donald Trump for $20 million in 2014. In 2016, South Street took the lead in the complex buyout of the ownership of Pittenger Land Investments, a 19,000-acre portfolio assembled by former U.S. Congressman Robert Pittenger. Mixing an expertise in real estate with country-club networking, Pittenger spent more than a decade creating a land business by leveraging $300 million of other people’s money — in this case, a who’s who of North Carolina’s establishment including several Belk family members, the wife of former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, and other prominent politicians and families. But controversy embroiled Pittenger as disgruntled clients complained about his business practices. The business ultimately sold for $35 million, representing Pittenger’s 10% interest in 51 limited partnerships. The buyer, a joint venture between investors and South Street Partners, also paid Pittenger Land $6 million.

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In 2019, South Street acquired The Cliffs Communities, a collection of seven private golf communities set in three regions across the Carolinas. The Cliffs was the brainchild of a brash developer named Jim Anthony, who once worked as a telephone lineman. Starting in 1991, he assembled large tracts for exclusive golf-oriented properties and enlisted professional golfers Tiger Woods and Gary Player as promoters. But his expansion plans shattered with the recession, causing large financial losses and, eventually, the sale to South Street. The Buncombe County development involving Woods never got off the ground. Three years later, Cliffs appears more popular than ever after significant investment by South Street. With sites at Lake Keowee in South Carolina’s Pickens and Oconee counties to the peaks of the Blue Ridge mountains around Greenville, Asheville and western North Carolina, homeowners and club members enjoy access to seven private clubs with a single membership. The variety of landscapes provide diverse options for buyers, who span the gamut from Carolinians seeking second homes to retirees from northern and Midwest states seeking a warmer climate.

PHOTO CREDITS: PATRICK O’BRIEN @ SOUTH STREET PARTNERS; NILL SILVER

largest residential and hotel resort on St. Kitts. The 2,500-acre

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Cliffs Realty, the official brokerage of The Cliffs, reported record real estate sales volume of $129.8 million during the first half of this year, a 24% increase from the same period last year. This summer, homes at The Cliffs ranged in price from $650,000 to more than $6 million, while homesites typically start at $125,000. A Lake Keowee home sold this summer for a record $6.3 million. South Street’s biggest expansion opportunity isn’t in the mountains, however. It's Palmetto Bluff, sandwiched between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia near Bluffton in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. In June 2021, the group partnered with London-based Henderson Park Capital to acquire the 20,000-acre site. Charlotte-based Crescent Communities had owned the property since 2000, acquiring it from the Union Camp paper company that mostly used it as a hunting preserve for clients. Crescent added a hotel and golf course, but didn’t make a major development push during its ownership. The property is one of the largest, mostly undeveloped waterfront properties on the East Coast, Melton says. It features 32 miles of river frontage, the 5-star, 200-room Montage Hotel, and the May River Golf Club designed by Jack Nicklaus’ firm. A handful of homes have been constructed there with land plotted for another 2,500 residences, which South Street plans to develop over the next decade.

While plans call for preserving much of the property’s wilderness feel and extensive nature trails, South Street has ambitious objectives that suggest a potential Kiawah-style impact. Two new golf courses are planned, including a nine-hole short course and an 18-hole track to be designed by Beau Welling, Tiger Woods’ design partner. Given the ages of South Street’s partners and their track record, ambitious growth plans are no surprise, signaled by their first major institutional investment fund that closed in July. The partners raised $225 million from a group of undisclosed institutions, family offices and high net-worth individuals. Their initial goal was $100 million. The money gives them the potential to take part in investments of more $2 billion, using traditional real-estate financing leverage. While the fund can bankroll any kind of real estate, the partners expect to spend a lot of time at the beach in the years ahead. Much of the investment fund will be targeted at continued development of the Kiawah and Palmetto Bluff holdings. Recessions typically wreak havoc on resort developers, but South Street is prepared if the economy weakens in coming months. “The good news is we’ve got a very long-term outlook at all of our projects of 10-plus years, if not more,” Chris Randolph told the New York Times in a September interview. ■

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AskBio and a few dozen other firms are making North Carolina a pace-setter in highly targeted drug development. By Mike MacMillan

T

here’s a story that Jude Samulski, perhaps the world’s preeminent gene-therapy research scientist, likes to tell. It’s about a fellow with a degenerative eye disease who is asked to navigate an obstacle course. He wanders, bumping into things and getting disoriented. It takes 76 seconds to finish the course. Six months later and following gene-therapy treatment, he’s back on the course. This time, there’s no disorientation. It takes 14 seconds. It’s an apt metaphor for the industry itself ­— years of groping in the dark, of following promising leads that don’t pan out, and then, finally, emerging into the light. There were early missteps as researchers struggled to understand the technology. There was the highly publicized 1999 death of a young patient participating in a trial for a rare metabolic disorder. There was the ebb and flow of capital directed to the industry. Still, researchers continued to plug away in their labs. One was Samulski, who came to UNC Chapel Hill in 1993 from the University of Pittsburgh, lured in part by a $430,000 faculty recruitment grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center. He was a true believer. “We knew from the beginning what this technology (gene

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therapy) could do,” he says. “We knew if we could make it work, we could change the world.” Today, there are seven cell and gene therapies approved in the U.S. with dozens more expected in the coming years, according to the Milken Institute. There are about 1,000 in various stages of development with 50 to 75 new therapies expected to be approved in the U.S. by 2030. These treatments are sometimes referred to as a “third wave,” following small molecule therapeutics and biologics. The promise is enormous. “Molecular medicine will change how we treat disease,” says Samulski. “We’re genetic beings. You fix (a disease) one time (with gene therapy) and it’s over.”

Eye-popping price This progress has not gone unnoticed, leading to massive investment in companies involved in the research. In 2018, Novartis bought the gene-therapy company AveXis for $8.7 billion. Its primary therapy, Zolgensma, is used to treat spinal muscular atrophy, the leading genetic cause of infant death, and it produces more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Last year, Roche acquired Spark

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Therapeutics, a developer of gene-therapy treatments for hemophilia and blindness, among other diseases, for $4.8 billion. North Carolina is in this game in a big way: in 2020, AskBio, a Chapel Hill-based company co-founded by Samulski and Sheila Mikhail in 2001, was acquired by Germany’s Bayer for $2 billion up front and $2 billion in incentive payments. At the time, AskBio had about 294 employees and nominal revenues relative to the purchase price. Its principal investors were the TPG Capital and Vida Ventures privateequity firms. Seeing investors drop eye-popping sums on developmental stage companies with little or no revenue is not uncommon in the biotech industry, but AskBio was different. It had already spun out several companies, most significantly Bamboo Therapeutics, a Chapel Hill-based developer of gene therapies for rare neuromuscular diseases. In 2016, Pfizer paid about $200 million up front for Bamboo, with potential milestone payments of as much as $495 million. In January 2021, Pfizer and Bamboo began Phase 3 trials for a therapy to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare disease that causes progressive muscle weakness. This was the first gene-therapy product to reach this stage of development for the disease. Of equal significance, Samulski and AskBio pioneered a sophisticated manufacturing capability for producing the viral vectors needed to insert genetic material into cells. It has now become something of an industry standard, while protected by multiple patents. This capability made AskBio “fundamentally different from the other gene-therapy companies,” Samulski says. “The Pfizer acquisition (of Bamboo) confirmed the importance of manufacturing in gene therapy,” says Art Pappas, managing partner at Pappas Capital, a Durham-based investment firm focused on life sciences. “You have to have manufacturing to drive value.”

Delivering genes The idea behind gene therapy is beguilingly simple. Many diseases are a result of one or more defective genes. Replacing those genes with healthy ones should, in theory, be curative.

ASKBIO’S FOUNDERS JUDE SAMULSKI

In 1980 Jude Samulski was a scruffylooking graduate student at the University of Florida doing early research on adenoassociated viruses (AAVs). There he demonstrated the initial use of AAV as a viral vector, work that culminated in the first U.S. patent involving non-AAV genes inserted into AAV. After earning his Ph.D., Samulski held various research positions before landing at the University of Pittsburgh. He was lured to UNC Chapel Hill in 1993 by a faculty recruitment grant where he was instrumental in establishing UNC’s Gene Therapy Center. In 2001, he co-founded AskBio, which later spun off a muscular dystrophy therapy company, Bamboo Therapeutics. Pfizer bought Bamboo for what would ultimately be $835 million in 2016. Over his 40 years, Samulski, 68, has advanced AAV therapeutics into human clinical trials for multiple rare diseases and into a promising treatment for heart failure. He holds more than 200 patents.

SHEILA MIKHAIL

The AskBio that Sheila Mikhail co-founded in 2001 began life as an intellectual property holding company looking for ways to leverage the work of Jude Samulski. In 2017, it converted to an operating company and under Mikhail’s direction has grown to more than 700 employees in five countries. Before starting AskBio, Mikhail had worked as a lawyer and advised emerging companies at the A.T. Kearney and Arthur Andersen consulting firms. Mikhail’s success in managing growth has not gone unnoticed. In 2021, she was named the Overall US Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young and earlier this year received the Distinguished Alumni Award – Entrepreneurial from the Booth School at the University of Chicago. Mikhail holds multiple degrees, including a JD with honors from Northwestern University, a finance MBA with honors from the University of Chicago, and a BS with highest honor from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She is the co-founder of Columbus Children’s Foundation, which develops gene-therapy drugs for ultra-rare diseases.

XIAO XIAO

The co-founder of AskBio is a professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He had been a colleague of Samulski at the University of Pittsburgh before following him to Chapel Hill in 2006. Xiao earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology at Pitt in 1992 after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in his native China. Xiao is best known for his work on muscular dystrophy, with his research playing a key role at Bamboo Therapeutics, the Chapel Hill-based company acquired by Pfizer in 2016.

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AskBio’s core technology, the Adeno associated virus, or AAV, is essentially a gene delivery vehicle, what Samulski likes to refer to as a “FedEx truck,” allowing the company to address illness at the cellular level. “We learned how to take DNA out (of the cell) and how to put new DNA in and how to do it at scale,” is how Samulski describes it.

We have a very big pipeline. Sheila Mikhail The initial applications have almost all been in rare diseases, defined as one that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. The goal is to eventually broaden the applications to address conditions that impact much larger populations. AskBio, for example, is pursuing treatments for Parkinson’s and congestive heart failure, each of which effects millions of people in the U.S. and around the world. Rare diseases themselves are not as rare as is generally believed. “This is a byproduct of the orphan disease world, that everybody thinks they’re small diseases. But if you take everyone who has an orphan disease and put them in one country, it’s the third-largest country in the world,” says Samulski. “They are typically children. Genetic diseases make up 45% of the medical costs in our hospitals.” Still, the “third wave” is attracting the major pharmaceutical players. Jost Reinhard, head of the cell and gene therapy unit at Bayer, says of the company’s reasoning behind the AskBio purchase, “We (Bayer) were very strong on small molecules and biologics. We asked ourselves, is there a third wave? And if so, how do we want to be positioned?” It was, he says, not necessarily any individual therapy but the platform technology, including the manufacturing, and the “ability to scale” that made AskBio attractive to Bayer. “The vision is unique. There is the ability to treat rare diseases but also to explore beyond monogenetic (diseases that involve just one

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gene) to create a broader portfolio.” AskBio lists six treatments in its pipeline. The three most advanced address Pompe disease, Parkinson’s and congestive heart failure. All are in Phase I trials, designed to “explore safety, feasibility and efficacy.” Phase II trials, intended to demonstrate safety and efficacy, have been designed and submitted and are awaiting approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration to move forward, according to Mikhail, AskBio’s chief executive officer and co-founder. The company is also investigating a novel approach to treating Alzheimer’s though that is in an earlier stage of development.

Role of the state There are 55 gene-therapy sites in North Carolina where companies conduct research, manufacturing and other activities. The state is generally considered among the top two or three regions in the country for gene-therapy research and manufacturing, along with the San Francisco Bay area and Boston. Samulski is a seminal figure in all this, generally credited with putting the state and the Research Triangle on the map through both his work and support of others. While the Biotech Center helped provide the funding that brought him to North Carolina, the state itself has not always been as supportive as it might have been. Early in the company’s history, Samulski appealed to state lawmakers for financial support for expanding AskBio’s manufacturing capabilities. The request generally fell on deaf ears. That failure to recognize the industry’s growth potential frustrates Samulski. “They probably would have had to discover America multiple times before they realized there was something here,” he says jokingly. Partly as a result, AskBio’s primary manufacturing facilities involve three plants in Spain. A fourth plant is in the planning stages with a location decision pending. North Carolina is one of several sites under consideration, Mikhail says. In recent years, pharmaceutical manufacturing has become a

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EXPANSION PLANS

strength for the state. By Samulski’s count, there are “46 or 47 gene-therapy companies that have come to North Carolina to do their production.” The Biotech Center has supported the emergence of the genetherapy industry through grants totaling about $6.63 million since 1993. In some cases, it takes warrants as well, a bet on the upside of these companies. Samulski would be happy to see even more research support for the universities as well as additional funding for the Biotech Center. As he told the Raleigh News & Observer at the time of the Bayer acquisition, “We not only can be the manufacturing,” he said, “we can be the innovation hub, like Boston and San Francisco .... We can capture something and become the Silicon Valley of gene therapy.” The fact that Pfizer has kept its research base in North Carolina following the Bamboo acquisition is “pretty profound,” Pappas says. “It’s added another dimension to what’s happening in North Carolina. We’re just at the beginning of growth for life sciences in the state.” Reinhard says Bayer’s “strategy was not just to acquire intellectual property but to make sure we have the talent, the brains and the academic ecosystem. I’m convinced there’s a very positive future for AskBio in North Carolina.”

The next phase While much of the early work in gene therapy focuses on relatively obscure illnesses, there are promising trials in late phase for diseases that have a higher public profile, including hemophilia and sickle cell anemia, says Kathy High, president of therapeutics at AskBio. “These are diseases everyone has heard of,” she says. “(Addressing these conditions) will elevate the awareness of gene-therapy.” There are some inherent advantages in gene therapy drug development compared with more traditional pharmaceutical treatments. “If you look at the first two products that were approved using AAV therapy, they were approved on studies that involved a few dozen patients,” says High. “If they’re missing one gene and you put that gene into the right target tissue, you can get a pretty impressive clinical response. The effects are so dramatic you don’t need to enroll that many patients and treat them to demonstrate a very big difference between the control group and the treated group.” The impact can be a much lower cost of clinical development, she says. As to AskBio, the agreement with Bayer requires that the company hit what Mikhail characterizes as a “basket of technical, manufacturing, clinical development, and revenue milestones all of which are achievable if we execute.” Technical and regulatory obstacles still must be overcome, but there is no longer much doubt that gene therapy will have a major impact on the way health care is delivered. “The breakthroughs over the last decade have been amazing,” says Mikhail. “Our children and grandchildren will have much brighter futures.” ■

These are among the gene-therapy companies with research and/or manufacturing facilities in North Carolina.

Astellas Gene Therapies Ramping up a new $110 million gene-therapy manufacturing facility in Sanford.

Beam Therapeutics Building an $83 million biomanufacturing facility in Durham to produce precision genetic medicines using a pioneering technology known as base editing.

Biogen Building a $200 million facility to support production of its gene-therapy pipeline in RTP.

CARsgen Therapeutics Building a $157 million, 200-employee Durham site for manufacturing anti-cancer therapies. It’s a Chinese company.

Jaguar Gene Therapy Building a $125.4 million site in RTP.

Novartis Gene Therapies Producing Zolgensma to treat spinal muscular atrophy in Durham.

Pfizer Invested $500 million to expand its genetherapy production in Sanford.

Precision Biosciences Forged a $2.7 billion partnership with Eli Lilly with its gene-editing platform.

Resilience Acquired Durham’s bluebird bio gene and cell therapy manufacturing site for $110 million.

StrideBio Signed multiple collaborations to develop technologies.

Taysha Gene Therapies Building a $75 million gene therapy manufacturing facility in Durham.

Source: NC Biotechnology Center

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ROUND TABLE

DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS

EMBRACING OUR DIFFERENCES

While most companies have one mission, their customers and employees are individuals. And meeting the first means recognizing, accepting and celebrating the latter. Addressing diversity and inclusion in the workplace has accelerated over the past two years as a pandemic, social movements and events that spawned civil unrest gripped the country. And that’s a good thing for businesses and communities, says this group of experts working on the frontlines of the D&I movement. Business North Carolina magazine recently brought them together to discuss what needs to be done, how it should be carried out and its importance. Fidelity, Gallagher, Lenovo, N.C. State University, Smith Anderson and Truliant sponsored the discussion, which was moderated by Business North Carolina Publisher Ben Kinney. It was edited for brevity and clarity.

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ROUND TABLE

DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS

PANELISTS

Anita Brown-Graham

Taylor Dewberry

Tony Jeffreys

Gladys Hall Coates Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government, UNC School of Government; director, ncIMPACT Initiative

attorney and chief diversity officer, Smith Anderson

vice president of diversity and inclusion leader, Fidelity Investments

WHEN AND HOW DID YOUR ORGANIZATION BEGIN ADDRESSING D&I?

LGBTQIA+ community. That says a lot for a 110-year-old firm in the Southeast. There has been a big push for D&I from our clients and staff. We need to focus on our clients’ demands. It’s good business all around.

murder of George Floyd, a man killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, was the impetus for many to take a more formal stance in support of understanding difference and the value of inclusion and belonging. While having a dedicated DEI leader is fairly new to us, we’ve always had a great workplace culture and are layering on top of a strong foundation of employees and leaders who view building relationships as a core value. I want to create safe and brave spaces for insightful dialogue to occur and for employees to know it’s OK to have questions and to be vulnerable. Diversity can’t be a dirty word in a place where we spend so much time together. We plan to introduce our first Business Resource Group this year and will continue to educate, train and build quality momentum not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because our employees and communities are better for it.

JEFFREYS: Wendy John, a 25-year employee of Fidelity, was named head of global diversity and inclusion two years ago. She reports to Maggie Serravalli, chief financial officer. Everyone has to own D&I, not only the D&I enterprise team. While Fidelity’s D&I journey began more than 20 years ago, it has become more intentional in many respects, especially hiring. We recruit from historically black colleges and universities and connect with diverse organizations and partnerships. We see D&I from a business imperative standpoint. Our customers are diverse. Our marketplace is diverse. We look at D&I starting with the end in mind. It’s not all about the pipeline, putting diverse talent in entry level positions. If diverse candidates do not see themselves in senior leadership positions, then they don’t consider them. DEWBERRY: My role as chief diversity officer at Smith Anderson is new, but the firm has had a diversity committee for 20 years. Two of its strong equity partners serve as its chair, both female, one Black and the other part of the 42

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STILLWELL: Prior to joining Gallagher, an insurance, risk management and consulting organization, I did risk management and human resources for small and midsize businesses. Over the course of about 10 years, I witnessed a diversity, equality and inclusion evolution from focusing on compliance to intentionally putting in place systems that drive change. We continue to examine those systems that drive change. We should continue to examine those systems, innovating along the way to ensure we create cultures where everyone can thrive long term. QUIRE-MCCLOUD: Our D&I journey officially began in January of 2021, but Truliant has been developing its D&I practices for several years. Our initial efforts were focused on education and ensuring all employees had a common understanding of where the organization was and its commitment to having an intentional DEI strategy. As was the case with many organizations, the

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LOPEZ: Lenovo has been focused on D&I for a long time. We started our first employee resource group — WILL, Women in Lenovo Leadership — about a decade ago. Now we have 13 ERGs represented at sites worldwide, including BLAST, Black Leaders Achieving Success in Technology, and HOLA, SPONSORED SECTION

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Ada Lopez

Precious Quire-McCloud

Elizabeth Stillwell

product diversity office manager, Lenovo

senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, Truliant Federal Credit Union

area vice president, human resources and compensation consulting, Gallagher

Hispanics of Lenovo Association. We also have NEMO for new and expectant mothers. ERGs improve the employee experience by creating shared identity communities. Discussions of a product diversity office were underway in 2019 and accelerated in 2020. I’ve managed it for about 18 months.

diversity in our workforce pipeline. Do women see themselves in tech roles? What role do women play in company leadership? How do we prepare them for those roles? So, we set goals, deadlines and a way to track our progress. This year, we wanted women holding 20% of leadership roles. We’re currently at 21% and want to reach 27% within three years. Look at your senior leadership’s demographics. Your company should be as diverse as your customers. That’s how you understand their needs. When you hire an employee, you don’t want that employee to be the only one of that identity community. It’s good to join a company where you feel you belong; you can connect with someone. Some of that is hiring practices, including who is doing the hiring. Is it a panel of different people? How does the candidate feel? It’s important to walk the talk when it comes to D&I.

recruitment experience. It followed applicants through the hiring process. I love hands-on understanding of the employee experience. Our tools to do that are improving every single day. It’s exciting to be able to put those into practice.

BROWN-GRAHAM: We’ve been on an evolution, thinking about this issue, for at least 30 years. 2020 was a remarkable inflection point. It caused all of us to consider the D&I progress that we’ve made and how to accomplish what we want. I’m a lawyer by training. I graduated law school in the 1990s and started work at a big firm. I was the first African-American lawyer it hired in its 135-year history. And like many of my counterparts, I was part of a revolving door. I went in, and I left. We can no longer hire people to simply check a box. We need pipelines that show people that they have a future at a company, where they can create a career over a long period of time. HOW DO YOU TRACK D&I PROGRESS? LOPEZ: Some numbers come from who you’re hiring. We examine gender

STILLWELL: You have to examine quantitative data, but that only tells part of the story. Your organization has to be ready for the conversations about belonging and inclusion. Employees need the capacity to handle or apply what you are throwing at them. All of it is important. We recently worked with a client on a project that simulated the

BROWN-GRAHAM: You need tools that resonate broadly. I’m watching several organizations that measure employee engagement to determine belonging. They’ve found that women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds have become more engaged over the last couple of years, but white males are becoming less engaged. We need to work this in a way that causes everyone to see why diversity is a good thing. That’s the challenge moving forward. We have to pay attention to that. QUIRE-MCCLOUD: One of the first things an organization can do is to look at their employee demographic data. Small actions can enhance retention strategies, inform hiring practices and support career development. Your data will identify gaps that need to be addressed across the entire spectrum. Surveys can inform leaders of employee sentiment about D&I. That sentiment can be measured and tracked for trends and areas of improvement. It’s tough to O C T O B E R

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DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS quantify how an employee experiences the workplace with complete accuracy as it can change, based on a variety of interactions that can occur within a single day. Where the consistency has to be solidified is in the commitment of the organization to be inclusive and respectful of difference, no matter what that is or one’s personal feelings. I see this commitment as a non-negotiable that is key to achieving desired outcomes. JEFFREYS: Fidelity’s first diversity, equity and inclusion report was published last year. Its second was released earlier this year. The report outlined workforce representation, programs, training and efforts to evangelize D&I. The report also detailed where we need to improve. It’s about transparency and accountability. We can measure the impact, so it can be sustained year over year. Other companies share the same information, allowing us to benchmark our progress. So, for us, it starts with transparency and accountability. Not only is it the right thing to do but we know the impact will be measured by our ability to sustain, expand and scale our progress year after year. DEWBERRY: Many businesses talk of having a certain number of diverse people, and that causes many lawyers to see red flags because of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate against people for a host of reasons, including race, gender and sexual orientation. Smith Anderson is part of the Mansfield Rule program, which requires us to consider at least 30% diverse candidates during hiring. That doesn’t mean a diverse person is automatically chosen. It ensures that we’re looking at the best slate of candidates. The Mansfield Rule also requires us to draft transparent job descriptions and paths to leadership for diverse lawyers. Many diverse people don’t see a path for promotion. We have documentation that shows them the way. These three aspects help diverse candidates succeed and allow us to measure our efforts.

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WHAT CHALLENGES DOES D&I BRING? WHAT ARE WAYS TO OVERCOME THEM? QUIRE-MCCLOUD: A recent LinkedIn study found that the number of diversity leaders doubled from 2015 to 2020. That’s a lot of organizational change. The evolution of D&I, particularly within the past two years, can pose challenges for organizations unwilling to respond to what’s needed to drive real inclusion. Life and world events inevitably find their way into the work environment, which may automatically place some organizations in reactive mode based on where they are on their D&I journey. One way to overcome this is to increase awareness across the organization through training and education. Organizations should review their policies and guidelines for gaps and be intentional about making changes that address the intersectional needs of all employees. Truliant is in the process of updating its onboarding documents. We have revised language in our employee guidebook and will be sharing employee-centered enhancements that we believe are necessary to foster belonging. STILLWELL: Leaders need to be agile. They must possess an emotional intelligence that allows them to check professional norms, and sometimes their ego, at the door. That opens up conversations, though sometimes as soon as you jump in, you realize you have to go back to square one. You must develop those skills before you can have meaningful conversations that include all participants. That unlearning and relearning can be challenging, but it’s needed. JEFFREYS: There is lots to focus on with everything being put through a D&I lens such as dynamic working. As people start returning to the office, there is much to adjust to, and in the spirit of inclusion, there are many things we have had to learn and be intentional about. Also, it’s not all about diversity. Inclusion needs equal attention, too. We’re really focusing on that through our ERGs, allyship

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connections and mentoring initiatives. Equity and equality are very different. Some people think everything is OK if everyone has the same opportunity. But the playing field isn’t level for everyone. People want authentic leadership. If I see you in the morning, simply asking how you’re doing isn’t enough. I need to inquire about what I can do or how I can help. That’s showing up authentically as a leader. LOPEZ: The world changed in 2020, and our language is changing to describe what is happening. Discussing these new experiences has been a challenge. The product diversity office considers how users experience Lenovo’s technologies. So, we talk to users, ensuring the needs of different genders and ethnicities are met and the new ways that people identify are included and respected. Inclusive language was research project one. Do we say man or male? Do we say female or woman? Do we use nonbinary? Nonbinary was something that we needed to learn, including employees who were early in their career and passionate about change and new language. The internet is filled with information, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. We needed the correct definition of inclusive, because we didn’t want to be the one using it wrong. Once you have a handle on language, then you discuss accessibility. Is our software accessible? What about our onboarding and presentations? Many people didn’t know what that meant, so we filled the knowledge gap there, too. We address D&I needs with education, using language and awareness to put everyone on the same page. That allows us to start conversations and changes to technologies. It was a bigger project than we expected. You have to think about who has the most rigorous standards and doing the right things for your users. That way, if there is a problem, you can say that you follow the highest standard, have user research and are genuinely doing this. It’s not to avoid a lawsuit but to do the right thing for your users. SPONSORED SECTION

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UNIVERSAL RESPONSIBILITY Everyone, regardless of how they identify, must find equality and inclusion regardless of where they work. And making that happen is up to all of us, says Sheri Schwab, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity at N.C. State University. She recently shared her thoughts on how businesses can be D&I examples for others, how employees can be encouraged to take up the D&I fight and where efforts should be focused first.

HOW CAN BUSINESSES BE ROLE MODELS FOR D&I? It starts with leadership. Business leaders should be dedicated to self-learning and improvement and encourage others to do the same. We all need to be involved at both the individual and interpersonal levels, as well as the organizational and systemic levels of diversity, equity and inclusion work. Businesses also can be role models by demonstrating that by having a more inclusive and equitable workforce, their products and services will be more available, accessible and equitable for their clients and customers. WHAT POLICIES ARE BEING PUT INTO ACTION TO ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION FROM MANAGEMENT AND STAFF? At N.C. State, we have added a section on every employee’s annual plan of work to have individuals and their supervisors map out a plan for professional development related specifically to diversity, equity and inclusion. This helps demonstrate that diversity, equity and inclusion learning is an ongoing and expected part of every employee’s professional development and their performance evaluation. All new employees participate in an orientation-level educational program within their first six months, and all managers must complete an additional training level once assigned as a supervisor. These trainings aside, we really want to encourage participation by creating an environment where people can demonstrate their growth. Rather than relying on policy, we have created numerous learning incentives so that individuals, as well as whole departments and divisions, can showcase their investment and participation. We don’t want to use a top-down, policy-driven approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. We want to develop it as an integral and organic part of our culture at N.C. State, so we see it living in everything that we think and do. WHAT ISSUES NEED TO BE ADDRESSED FIRST? Primary issues that need to be addressed are that everyone — each and every one of us — has more individual and interpersonal work to do, more knowledge to be gained, more empathy and compassion to use as it relates to understanding others, and more skills to develop how we behave with authentic cultural compassion and competence. And, like most large organizations, there are systemic and organizational equity issues that also need to be improved or addressed. How and what do we prioritize? How do we make progress and show that progress? What does progress related to diversity, equity and inclusion look like within an organization and between individuals that exist in a societal context as well? We don’t have all of the answers, but we’re working toward our goal of being a more inclusive and welcoming community for all. 46

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DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS DEWBERRY: Diverse employees are tasked with creating diversity change more times than not. In the legal world, for example, law firms may only have a few diverse lawyers. And when that pool is small, a lot gets pushed onto each of them. We don’t want to burn out these employees, who are extremely valuable. While most diverse employees are excited to help, organizations have to be reminded to pull in allies, too. That can be a big challenge, particularly in the legal space. The responsibility needs to be shared. At Smith Anderson, we make a conscious effort to pull in our internal and external allies and say OK, they can help with this and share the load. HOW DO DIFFERENT GENERATIONS VIEW D&I? BROWN-GRAHAM: There is an issue of intergenerational aptitude for this amount of change. For many young people, this is the world they were born in, and they’re curious about it. They’re comfortable with it, though they may not have all the right answers or language. One thing that has struck me as curious is it doesn’t really break down on conservative versus progressive ideology. It’s fascinating to watch. LOPEZ: One thing that we took into consideration when making these changes and measurements is that we wanted to continue to grow. We want to continue to meet our users’ needs. We need to hire talent from different generations and appeal to them, too. We need to create an environment that offers a sense of belonging, where everyone feels valued. As we live longer, we can work later into life. I want to be able to accommodate that talent and experience. Sometimes as we get older, we have more needs. But we want to work and enjoy that sense of purpose. Why shouldn’t we? We can use technology as an equalizer to provide those opportunities. JEFFREYS: As people return to the office as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, SPONSORED SECTION

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DIVERSITY IN BUSINESS we’re intentionally thinking about being inclusive. There’s a lot going on with that. Millennials seem to want to be in the office. More seasoned employees are happy working remotely. That presents some interesting dynamics in regard to increasing inclusiveness in the workspace that we’re creating. STILLWELL: In terms of accessibility, for example, if you’re sitting next to the CEO in the office every day, you’ll likely have a much better relationship than someone who’s sitting on the other side of the office. That’s a small thing, but it can make a large difference when we’re talking about opportunities. It goes back to your employee value proposition. Are you shifting your thinking to that mutual relationship? You can’t lead with fear of what you’re doing. Things change rapidly in our current world. You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to do things wrong, recognize that and quickly course correct without dwelling on how you personally feel about that failure. That’s a huge challenge. HOW DOES D&I AFFECT A BUSINESS’S BOTTOM LINE? JEFFREYS: We know that diverse teams produce better results, better and more relevant products and services for our diverse customer base. Deloitte, McKinsey and other business consultants have looked into it. There is so much research that supports the fact that when you have an inclusive environment, you have happier people, people who are invested in the outcome of the organization. That is the catalyst for business success. We don’t have to guess anymore about the impact of the employee experience and the bottom line, because we have the data that measures the impact. STILLWELL: If you don’t do it, it’s a clear detriment to your business. Research points to the importance of your relationship with your employees. The more a company focuses on how 48

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D&I impacts the bottom line, the less attractive it becomes to workers who fall into those check boxes. They see the business is only concerned with its bottom line, so it isn’t a place they want to work. They want to see everyone in the organization working toward D&I, not only those few employees responsible for it. They want to know the business has systems to ensure their experience is positive. QUIRE-MCCLOUD: People are at the heart of every organization’s success. Their daily work experiences are a strong driver of retention and influence the effort they choose to apply in their roles. By itself, diversity won’t impact much; however, when packaged with intentional inclusion and belonging, the collective effort of the workforce can drive innovation, strengthen financial performance and improve business outcomes. It just makes good business sense. LOPEZ: Employees with disabilities — neurodiversity — are sometimes overlooked. Accessibility includes many things. It can be having a screen reader or the ability to use Braille on a computer. If you have a mobility issue, do you have what you need to get to your job and do it? Many Americans with disabilities are underemployed, and it’s not necessarily because of a lack of talent. The scope of the product diversity office is making products accessible. So, when an employee has an accessibility issue, we’re called on to become the ally, the advocate. If we care about a customer with a disability, then we must care about colleagues with a disability, too.

that’s designed for their needs. When you consider tools that accommodate employees, then your candidate pool expands. QUIRE-MCCLOUD: Small businesses may not be able to be as agile as large organizations, but they can be just as successful with D&I through valuing difference and building inclusion. You don’t need a million-dollar budget to treat employees with dignity and respect. Small businesses can start by creating a value statement that speaks to their commitment to a workplace culture that values the voice of employees. They also can survey their workforce to understand employee sentiment then use that sentiment to make decisions that advance the goals stated in their value statement. Diversity breeds innovation and is not limited to race, gender or employers of a certain size. It is inclusive of experiences, opinions and perspectives, all of which can help to solve real business problems. By creating a culture that is inclusive, every organization can address D&I with success. STILLWELL: You need to be aware of your identity bias. Are you more likely to promote people who are like you? If you recognize that, then you can start the empathy process. It allows you to consider situations from other viewpoints. That’s an important first step toward leveling the playing field, especially at small businesses. ■

HOW CAN SMALL BUSINESSES ADDRESS D&I? LOPEZ: Small businesses can’t hire as many people as large companies. But technology and tools can allow them to hire more diverse employees. If you hire a great candidate who has mobility issues, for example, then buy a desk

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FAMILY-OWNED BUSINESS

FAMILY CHEMISTRY Burlington’s Powell family are emblematic of the enduring importance of family businesses across North Carolina. During its 95 years in business, Carolina Biological Supply has met an unfilled need, created a niche and continued to innovate by providing diverse services. It’s happened because several generations have worked in sync with common goals to build a sustainable culture. We wish continued success to the Powells and other North Carolina family businesses!

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Dr. Thomas E. Jr.’s portrait hangs on the wall behind Dr. Thomas E. Powell III

MIXING FAMILY AND SCIENCE At Carolina Biological Supply Company, family and a family-like culture are part of the science educational material company’s DNA.

Since its unpretentious start in 1927—when Dr. Thomas E. Powell Jr., a young geology and biology professor, began collecting specimens in the field and selling the surplus to his colleagues— Carolina has grown into a thriving 400-plus staff member operation with sales around the world. It remains a family business, espousing values that from the beginning have been key to its success. Six family members serve on Carolina’s Board of Directors, with Dr. Thomas E. Powell III as chairman. In their leadership roles, the family embraces Powell Jr.’s philosophy of innovation, quality and service. Innovations in kit design and manufacturing, curriculum development and distance learning propelled Carolina to the top tier of educational suppliers for elementary schools through universities. Carolina Biological Supply Company 2700 York Road Burlington, NC 27215 800-334-5551 carolina.com

Designing and manufacturing science kits are among Carolina’s core functions. These kits are essential to teaching science at every level. Carolina also develops hands-on curricula independently and in partnership, supporting educators in the newest standards for hands-on science learning. Since computers are ubiquitous in today’s classrooms, Carolina delivers digital resources—videos, teacher’s manuals and interactive lessons—through its unique platform at carolinascienceonline.com. In 2016, Carolina Distance Learning was created to provide campus-quality laboratory science to students in their homes. Today, these kits benefit remote students at hundreds of colleges and universities, proving to be a vital service during the pandemic. Carolina has long been known for developing lessons using living and preserved materials for a deeper understanding of biological concepts. Now, the company is among the first to bring affordable biotechnology concepts to high school and college students. As an added service, it provides a wealth of free information on organism care, laboratory techniques, lessons and activities. O C T O B E R

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2021

By Alyssa Pressler, David Mildenberg, Ebony Morman & Colin Campbell

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B

usiness North Carolina recognizes thriving

in a single year. Other Triangle and Charlotte suburbs including

business owners and professionals under the

Apex, Waxhaw and Clayton saw similar growth.

age of 40 who work in N.C. cities and towns that

But people haven’t been moving only to the towns within a

have fewer than 100,000 residents. This year, we received

short commute of major cities. Calabash, the town on the South

nominations for talented Trailblazers based from Edenton

Carolina stateline best known for its seafood, was the sixth-

to Asheville. The list includes a wide variety of occupations

fastest-growing municipality in the past year with 8.6% growth.

including software, logistics, real estate and plumbing. As many jobs shifted from big city office towers in the past several years, some families jumped at the chance to move to less expensive, more spacious homes in small towns on the periphery of North Carolina’s urban areas. Dozens of smaller, mostly suburban towns saw more dramatic population growth rates between 2020 and 2021 than the state’s largest cities, U.S. Census data shows. Wendell, east of Raleigh, was the fastest-growing municipality, with its population increasing by 18% to 11,570

Aberdeen, near Southern Pines, saw its population grow by 6.6% and ranked No. 13. By contrast, Charlotte grew by 0.3% and Raleigh grew by 0.4%, which represents thousands of new residents. Some young professionals are opting to launch careers and businesses in the state’s smaller towns, finding plenty of opportunities to make their mark. All the trailblazers are having a significant impact in sustaining and building their communities. We appreciate their participation and those who made nominations.

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REX CARRIKER

PRESIDENT AND OWNER | QUEEN CITY ENGINEERING AND DESIGN Mount Pleasant The N.C. State University graduate founded the business in 2015. It had success during the pandemic by developing and making barriers to protect bus drivers and others from potentially ill riders. More than 5,000 barriers have been sold nationally, enabling Queen City to retain its workforce. It’s an example of the company’s diverse mechanical engineering and manufacturing services. Education: Bachelor of Science, N.C. State University What is most special about your community? It is a small, quiet farm town where everyone is friendly and knows one another. Life just seems to move slower here. Biggest influence: A former boss of mine and seasoned businessman, Roger Leon. I worked for him in my early 20s. Within two years, I watched our small startup company of seven employees grow into a large manufacturer that competes with huge original equipment manufacturers — such as John Deere and Husqvarna — at major retailers throughout the country. Most important character trait: My ability to be able to talk to anyone has helped me the most. Networking is a major part of growing your career or a business. Organization’s biggest success: Receiving ISO 9001:2015 certification. We became certified on our first attempt and have since seen a tremendous increase in the quality of customers and magnitude of projects we are receiving.

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Favorite volunteer activity: Working at vacation Bible school at my church. A friend and I are always in charge of the games station. Every year on the last day, we finish the week with a giant slip ‘n’ slide. We have been doing this for so long now that many of the once 5- and 6 year-olds are heading off to college.

MALLORY DUMOND TRAVEL AGENT | TRAVELMATION Goldsboro

When travel reached an all-time low because of the pandemic, the Goldsboro native made a name for herself as a trustworthy travel agent with both local and national clients. Dumond is on track to grow her annual book of business to $1 million after three years in the industry. After receiving a master’s degree in 2019, Dumond struggled to find a job. Instead, she joined Travelmation as an independent travel adviser. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based agency is owned by Disney and specializes in selling vacation packages at the company’s famous resorts. Despite the uncertainties surrounding the travel industry amid COVID-19, the wife and mother of two has built a substantial business by nurturing relationships with clients, participating in the Goldsboro Chamber of Commerce, and promoting her services through various travel and news publications. She says her favorite all-inclusive resort is Sandals South Coast in Jamaica. Education: Master of Public Administration, Regent University What is most special about your community? The kind and supportive people make Goldsboro special. Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and the 4th Fighter Wing make Goldsboro special. We’re all proud of the men and women who serve our country.

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Biggest influence: My family. After earning a Master of Public Administration, I received over 50 rejection letters for employment. It was the influence of my family that inspired me to follow my love for travel and begin a career as a travel agent. Most important character trait: One’s true worth is determined by how much more they give in value than what they may take in payment. Favorite volunteer activity: Anything working with students and young people in my community, specifically middle-school students. I have such a special love for them.

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ERIENNE DICKMAN

TOURISM DIRECTOR | CHOWAN COUNTY TOURISM DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY Edenton The Edenton native leads a multiplatform marketing campaign, which has led to a record-breaking year for the town’s occupancy tax. She’s a hands-on director who is visible at town events doing everything from organizing silent auctions to cleaning. Education: Bachelor of Arts, William Peace University What is most special about your community? Rural communities sometimes get a reputation for being stuck in the past and being economically stagnant. Edenton has weathered everything that has come our way. The town is stronger today than ever. Biggest influence: Nancy Nicholls is one of my most important influences, biggest cheerleaders and dearest friends. In 2021, Nancy retired after 29 years of leading the Chowan County TDA. Now, I find myself sitting in her chair, employing the lessons she taught me when I was 15 years old. It has truly been a “full circle” experience. Organization’s greatest success: A record-breaking year in occupancy tax came from visitors making overnight stays in Edenton. Expanding our communication plan during a pandemic was a high-risk decision, but it was necessary to showcase all that our town has to offer.

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Favorite volunteer activity: One of my favorite things about local events is breaking the event down once it is over. I enjoy watching the impact we’ve made on our local community by providing events for both residents and tourists.

CHARLA DUNCAN

DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT | WARREN COUNTY Warrenton The Warren County native has a lot of pride for her home county and its rural identity. One of her goals is to challenge stereotypes about small, idyllic communities. Her work with the county started in 2019 when she was a senior assistant to the county manager. Duncan was a teacher in Greensboro and Charlotte, attended grad school in New York and worked for Granville County before returning to Warrenton. Since taking her current post in 2021, Duncan has assisted expansion efforts of existing industry, including Glen Raven’s expansion that added 205 employees and $82 million of capital investment. She’s also helped attract $2 million in grants for community projects, advised on zoning changes to promote development along Interstate 85, and led county partnership efforts to secure the development of a housing subdivision in the historic Soul City community. Returning to Warren County comes with an added bonus — she’s restoring her grandparents’ family home. Education: Bachelor of Arts, UNC Greensboro; Master of Public Administration, New York University What is most special about your community? Warren County is a bold community dedicated to building a bright future for all who live here. We are fearless and undaunted by hard work. We are a community of creative, innovative and entrepreneurial spirits.

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Biggest influence: My mentor and friend Harry Mills. He is the economic development director in Granville County. He has been a big inspiration and help for me. Organization’s biggest success: Housing is a need for counties all over the state — both urban and rural — and our county has partnered with a developer to launch the development of an 82-home subdivision. This will complete a decades-long plan to see housing develop in this location. Across the street, the county has worked to locate the first business in our Triangle North Warren business park, which was formed almost 20 years ago. Favorite volunteer activity: Co-hosting trivia games with my friend Jenny at a meadery and taproom in downtown Warrenton. It’s been my joy to co-host an event where folks are regularly laughing and are in community together. It’s an important part of reinforcing our identity as a community. O C T O B E R

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KATY HARRIS

BUSINESS BANKING SALES AND SERVICE GROUP LEADER | PNC BANK Windsor The Bertie County native has been an important force during the 10 years since Pittsburgh-based PNC company acquired Royal Bank of Canada’s U.S. banking business. Working from a small town, she has helped lead PNC’s transformation for business banking as new technology was adopted for payables, receivables and other services, leading to a promotion to her current role in June. She’s also been instrumental in leading PNC’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across eastern North Carolina through mentoring, professional development and marketwide discussions, according to Jim Hansen, the bank’s regional leader. Education: Bachelor of Science, Boston College Biggest influence: My current manager, Dawn Doherty, was instrumental in helping me hone my leadership acumen. She helped me see my management-track potential. Her mentorship approach mirrors my personal philosophy that my father instilled in me — always strive to improve the life of somebody else and help them move forward. Most important character trait: Integrity. I am intentional about consistently doing what I say I will do. Company’s greatest success: Last February, we launched the PNC North Carolina HBCU Initiative, which distributed $2 million in grants to five North Carolina HBCUs to enrich the future of entrepreneurship and create workforce opportunities. PNC’s philanthropic approach empowers local leaders.

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Favorite volunteer activity: I am passionate about paying it forward and mentoring young people in my community. I’ve found that high school seniors and early-career professionals may not always be aware of the extent of available resources or have the confidence to pursue certain career pathways. As a mentor, I provide encouragement and connectivity.

HALEY HASSLER

DIRECTOR OF CAROLINAS OPERATIONS | BARTON MALOW BUILDERS Mooresville Hassler is responsible for all projects in the Carolinas for her Southfield, Michigan-based employer, which has more than 3,000 employees and 16 offices nationally. Her work during her 15 years at the company has included construction of minor-league baseball stadiums in Kannapolis, Charlotte, Nashville, Tennessee and Columbia, South Carolina. She’s also a board member of Cabarrus County’s The Chamber, Leading in Business, and serves on the organization’s steering committee. She and her husband have two sons. Education: Bachelor of Science, Purdue University Biggest influence: My teachers have always been the most influential people in my life, from kindergarten through college. There is no one I have greater respect for in this community. Most important character trait: I am genuine. Honesty, trustworthiness and sincerity are of utmost importance to me in both my personal and professional relationships. Company’s most important success: From April 2021 to March 2022, we achieved the highest earned revenues and fees in the company’s 98-year history with record backlog for future fiscal years.

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Favorite volunteer activity: For the last few years, I have thoroughly enjoyed serving on the steering committee for the Leadership Cabarrus program. My team and I plan the Sports and Tourism Day, which gives class participants insight and tours. It brings awareness to the impact that these industries have on the local economy and quality of life in Cabarrus County.

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SAVANNAH HEATH

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR | MONTGOMERY COUNTY Troy Montgomery County didn’t have a full-time economic development director until Heath stepped into the role in August 2021. In the past year, the county has been awarded significant grants from the Golden LEAF Foundation, N.C. Railroad Co. and NC Southeast Partnership. She previously worked for Montgomery Community College as director of the Small Business Center. She’s a director for several local nonprofits and community groups. Education: Bachelor of Science, UNC Charlotte; Master of Business Administration, Louisiana State University, Shreveport What is most special about your community? Our beautiful natural recreational assets, such as the Uwharrie National Forest, Badin Lake, Lake Tillery, Uwharrie River and Little River. These ancient mountains have a way of casting their spell on you making it hard to leave. Biggest influence: My grandparents always encouraged me to give back to my community, love the natural world and stay strong in my faith. Both being successful in their careers, they built a strong foundation for our family and taught us optimism in its purest form. Most important character trait: A strong foundation in family values and community service.

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Organization’s biggest success: We have been able to develop and launch a new tourism website, capitalize on many marketing and advertising opportunities, and grow our occupancy tax collections to allow for a full-time tourism coordinator. We have also added Discover Uwharrie Welcome Center staff. The national forest now averages 2 million visitors annually. Favorite volunteer activity: Assisting with conservation efforts.

AUSTIN HELMS FOUNDER | EASE PLUMBING Cornelius

Helms’ heady goal is to create the nation’s largest employee-owned service company. With more than 50 employees rolling around eight markets ranging from Charlotte to Greenville, he’s on his way. Education: Bachelor of Science, UNC Chapel Hill What’s special about your community? My family has been my rock since I was born. My work community has been the main reason for the success of Ease Plumbing. They bought into the vision. Biggest influence: My mom was a teacher for 30 years. She was never an entrepreneur, she never worked in business and she can’t even balance a checkbook. But my mom has impacted thousands of students in a small town. Her impact drove me to impact others. I wanted to do it by owning companies. Most important character trait: Being respectful and loving. We can all be successful financially. However, doing so respectfully or in a loving way is the real key.

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Company’s most important success: We have grown from 15 employees to more than 50. Last year, we had two locations, and now we have eight across North Carolina. Our revenue has grown fivefold. Favorite volunteer activity: I am a licensed auctioneer. I am an auctioneer for charity events. In January, I helped raise $1.1 million for a nonprofit, Dream On 3. The group creates joyful experiences for children and young adults with life-threatening conditions.

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ADAM HODGES

PRESIDENT | CROWN LSP GROUP INC. Rocky Mount Under Hodges’ leadership, the warehousing division of his family’s transportation brokerage business has grown from two facilities totaling 585,000 square feet to nine facilities totaling 2.3 million. The company provides logistics services to a variety of N.C. employers in the fields of pharmaceuticals, health care, agriculture, paper, tire manufacturing and consumer products. He’s active in many local civic groups. Carolina Gateway Partnership CEO Norris Tolson says Hodges “is in a strong position to help his hometown of Rocky Mount grow and prosper. We need more trailblazers like him in North Carolina.“ Education: Bachelor of Arts, Hampden-Sydney College; Master of Business Administration, East Carolina University What is most special about your community? The people. Rocky Mount has a diverse community with a lot of opportunity. Biggest influence: From a young age, my parents taught me the value of a dollar and hard work. They provided an opportunity for me to learn the business and get a quality education. My wife and children are the driving force in all that I do.

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Organization’s biggest success: Our team’s ability to overcome challenges and add new services. We completely retooled our business after the onset of COVID-19 — increasing our customer base in some areas by as much as 500% and offering new services, including e-commerce fulfillment, temperature-controlled storage and drainage. Favorite volunteer activity: It’s a tie between economic development with our local partners — Carolinas Gateway Partnership and Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce — and community health initiatives with the Nash UNC Healthcare Foundation.

JEFF KAPLAN

DIRECTOR | VENTURE ASHEVILLE Asheville Kaplan lives, eats and breathes entrepreneurship, helping others realize their potential through the organization, which is an initiative of the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County and Asheville Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, he gave a TEDx talk on building better entrepreneurs, a cornerstone of his work. Kaplan has led the group for four years, aiming to connect business owners with startup funding, talent and mentors. That has helped Asheville rank as the seventh-fastest-growing tech hub with a 29% increase in tech-oriented workers between 2019 and 2021, according to a LinkedIn study. Kaplan has had a hand in various start-ups and written articles about entrepreneurship. Education: Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Entrepreneurship, University of Florida What is most special about your community? We are a boot-strapped ecosystem. The thing about Asheville is people are truly drawn here. Whether it’s an entrepreneur, a mentor, an investor or remote worker, people choose to come to Asheville. For that reason, an element of the social fabric here is a sense of responsibility to give first and grow smart. Most important character trait: The character trait most central to my success is the ability to see the potential in others, even when they don’t see it in themselves, and to be entrepreneurially optimistic. Entrepreneurial optimism is the idea that there is always a way to create value in every single opportunity. Biggest influence: Dr. Michael Morris was my grad school adviser, mentor and later co-author. Working with him at Florida, I experienced the transformative power of entrepreneurship education and development.

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Organization’s greatest success: Venture Asheville was awarded a gold ranking in innovation by the International Economic Development Council. This was the first gold for the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County. Favorite volunteer activity: My family is very active with the Jewish Community Center of Asheville, an inclusive center of wellness, education and culture. We volunteer through board service, the parents advisory council and annual giving.

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JASON JOYNER

MAYOR PRO TEM | TOWN OF WENDELL; PRINCIPAL AND FOUNDER | JOYNER GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS Wendell Joyner has been self-employed since 2015, working as a government relations consultant in Raleigh before he launched his firm in 2020. The eastern Wake County town was named the fastest-growing municipality in North Carolina last year, the same year he and his wife, Meghan, welcomed their second daughter. Education: Bachelor of Science, Appalachian State University What is most special about your community? The people. As mayor pro tem, I get an interesting view into all the different groups and people that make up Wendell. We have a group of business leaders, former mayors and community leaders that aren’t shy about investing in Wendell and it shows. Biggest influence: Ed Joyner, my dad. He taught me that public service, and service to others, is something that we do as a part of our daily life.

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Most important character trait: I learned while working [in emergency services in] Wake County that answering the call matters and that you may never know how much it matters to the person that’s calling. I might not be able to fix every problem, but I’ll answer the call. If I can’t help you, I do everything I can to get you to someone who can. Favorite volunteer activity: This past summer I helped my fellow Commissioner Joe DeLoach in coaching the Wendell 12U Allstars. Getting to coach Wendell kids gave me an entirely new love for the town.

BRADLEY LOCKLEAR

HOUSING DIRECTOR | LUMBEE TRIBE OF NORTH CAROLINA Pembroke Since 2018, Locklear has helped promote the housing needs for North Carolina’s Lumbee Tribe. His initiatives have involved the construction of 24 homes for homeownership, providing down-payment assistance for 139 homebuyers, rehabilitation of 464 homes and operation of 181 affordable rental units. His group also issues about 100 rental vouchers each semester to supplement rents for Lumbee members pursuing college degrees on a full-time basis. During COVID-19, he administered $4.5 million to provide personal protection equipment, cleaning supplies, fresh food, testing, and rent, mortgage and utility assistance to more than 4,000 eligible families. He also serves as corporate accountant for Lumbee Tribe Enterprises and is a board member for the Carolina Civic Center Foundation. He and his wife have two children. Education: Bachelor of Science, UNC Pembroke What is most special about your community? The deep history of my community is special because it tells some of the oldest stories of this country. My tribe is the largest Eastern Woodland tribe. The history of the tribe tells the story of an ever-evolving landscape, with influences from all over the world but rooted in the traditions of the nation’s first people. Biggest influence: My mother, Denise Hunt Locklear, who retired from the Scotland County Department of Social Services as a caseworker. She is a civil servant, Sunday school teacher and my biggest fan, supporting me in all things that I do and have done. Most important character trait: Loyalty to others is one of the greatest gifts one can give.

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Organization’s greatest success: We constructed a 10-unit homeless veterans’ village and doubled our Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing grant program. We currently house 40 formerly homeless veterans. Favorite volunteer activity: Coaching youth sports gives me the opportunity to mentor kids, not only in sports, but for life skills in general, such as character-building, teamwork and self-confidence. Learning proper etiquette can take people a long way.

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MACKENZIE MOSER

VICE PRESIDENT | THE MOSER GROUP, INDIAN TRAIL Weddington After studying business at Clemson University, Moser worked for Cushman & Wakefield before joining her family’s real estate business six years ago. Moser Group, which Dennis Moser started in 1994, has about 20 active projects, mostly in Union County, one of the state’s fastest-growing, affluent areas. The company takes pride in creating beautiful developments that make communities better places to live, work and play, she says. Education: Bachelor of Science, Clemson University What is most special about your community? Union County is a little slice of heaven that combines the old with the new. Rolling hills, farmland, beautiful barns and quick access to amazing dining, shopping and quality developments make it the perfect place for people of all ages. Biggest influence: My dad, Dennis Moser. He believed in me, let me go around with him to every project and taught me to dream big, work hard, trust God and live a delayedgratification lifestyle. The memories we made through the years are priceless. Organization’s greatest success: We have an amazing team at The Moser Group. We are small but everyone involved takes responsibility and moves mountains. We have about 20 active development projects.

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Favorite volunteer activity: I love to be involved in local organizations and politics. I believe we have a duty to be involved in the direction of our government locally, state and federally.

JORDAN GRIFFIN ROWELL PARTNER | LEITNER, BRAGG & GRIFFIN LAW FIRM Unionville

Rowell joined with fellow Monroe High School graduates Tee Leitner and Ellie Bragg to build a local law firm offering a wide variety of services to more than 300 clients. Rowell is heavily involved in philanthropy and civic projects in her home county. She serves on the boards of nonprofits Community Shelter of Union County and Core Compassion Project, while participating in the county bar association. Education: Bachelor of Arts, Appalachian State University; Juris Doctor, Charlotte School of Law What is most special about your community? Despite having some of the fastest growth in the state, Union County has been able to maintain a quaint, tight-knit community made up of people from many backgrounds. Our community is a family that supports business, nonprofits, innovation, schools and community.

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Biggest influence: I have been blessed to grow up and work in the Union County community. I’ve learned so much about business development and growth, family life and charitable work. Most important character trait: Determination. A friend of mine who passed away lived by the words “never give up.” I have adopted that mantra as my own. Company’s greatest success: Professionally, my law firm completed a yearlong renovation of a historic property, the R.V. Houston House, which was built in 1870. Bringing life back into this old house and revitalizing this historic property has been an exciting project and one that I believe brings benefit to the town around us.

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MARIA SATIRA

DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS | GREENVILLE EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA ALLIANCE Greenville The Pittsburgh native moved to Greenville as a television news anchor in 2014 and fell in love with North Carolina. In 2020, she left her 10-year news media career to become the chief marketer for the alliance, a public-private partnership that promotes economic progress in the region. The Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce named her the 2021 Pitt County Young Professional of the Year for her community service. She’s passionate about the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina, where she adopted her dog. Education: Bachelor of Arts, Robert Morris University What is most special about your community? Greenville is full of talented, creative and welcoming people who embrace community, culture and business. Biggest influence: My husband, Andrew Bennett, has been the biggest influence in recent years. From changing careers to writing a book, he has supported and encouraged every one of my personal and professional ventures.

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Most important character trait: I think my work ethic has served me well in my professional career. This trait definitely comes from my parents. They taught my three brothers and me that each day is an opportunity to work hard, be kind and make a difference in the world around us. Organization’s greatest success: In the past 12 months, our team has helped to secure $172 million in new investment, which has resulted in the creation of more than 800, wellpaying jobs. What is your favorite volunteer activity: Animal rescue is my passion. Through fundraising, marketing and fostering efforts, I’m always looking for ways to give back to the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina and support its mission.

JACLYN SMITH

FOUNDER AND REALTOR | JACLYN SMITH PROPERTIES Clayton The Campbell University graduate has continuously contributed to the growth of Clayton. Her company helps clients meet their real estate goals. As a Clayton native, her passion extends to the community where she meets various needs of the area through her work with OneCompassion, a nonprofit she co-founded. Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, Campbell University What is most special about your community: Residents love the hometown feel where you can walk into a coffee shop or hardware store and know the owner’s name. We also have all of the amenities and activity of a big city being in such close proximity to Raleigh. Our community is also known for a strong agricultural heritage.

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Biggest influence: On a professional level, my husband, Reid, has inspired and challenged me as a leader more than anyone. One of the reasons we started this entrepreneurship journey was so we could do it together. Over the past eight years, he and I have been like iron sharpening iron, always leaning on the best of each other’s strengths in ways that leverage and complement our differences, rather than fighting against them. Most important character trait: Humility has always been important to me personally but is also a pillar of our company’s culture and core values. When we coach our leaders, we talk about balancing two of our core values that have a dynamic push-pull effect on leadership: a will to win and living compassionately. That one-two punch of having a winning drive, but balancing it out with humility and a desire to serve others is, what I believe, sets great leaders apart. Favorite volunteer activity: I love getting to serve with our nonprofit, OneCompassion. We specifically focus on the needs right here in Johnston County, filling in the gap when life’s toughest and most unexpected curveballs hit. One of my favorite things we do every year is Holiday Ministry, when we help provide much needed groceries, household items, and gifts during the Christmas season. Seeing people’s faces light up and then getting to pray over them and their family is a highlight of my year, every year. O C T O B E R

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RACHEL SOSSOMAN

PRESIDENT AND CEO | MERCY URGENT CARE AND CATHERINE MCAULEY MERCY FOUNDATION Asheville Sossoman leads a team playing an important role in serving western North Carolina’s medical needs. She helped lead the addition of an Asheville center in February 2020, marking the nonprofit’s eighth location in the region. The not-for-profit group has annual revenue of $10 million with 70,000 patients served in 2021. Sossoman serves as the president-elect of the Western North Carolina Medical Managers Association and is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives. The wife and mother of five is earning her Masters in Business Administration from N.C. State University. Her work was published in the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine with an article on organizational culture. She’s also helping create Mercy University, which is creating an internal skills development program to help the organization’s employees reach their goals. Education: Bachelor of Arts, Appalachian State University; Master of Science, Western Carolina University What is most special about your community? The natural beauty of the area and the vibrant artistic and cultural community make Asheville extraordinary. The best part of Asheville, in my opinion, is the sense of true community. Biggest influence: My predecessor at Mercy Urgent Care, Tim Johnston, has certainly been one of my greatest influences. He has taught me some of the toughest and best lessons in my professional career. My husband, Mark Sossoman, has shown me how unwavering support helps others reach their potential.

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Most important character trait: A willingness to learn and then apply that learning in practice. Organization’s biggest success: The team has launched three service lines in response to emerging needs in our community — MercyMindful mental health services; MercyMe monthly membership plans providing unlimited access to health care for less than the cost of a cellphone bill; and MercyMotion physical therapy services. Favorite volunteer activity: I serve with the Western North Carolina Medical Managers Association to bring health care education to medical leaders in western North Carolina.

DAVID STUNJA

CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER | PETSCREENING Morrisville The husband, father and dog owner knows a thing or two about the importance of furry friends. This knowledge helped him succeed at PetScreening, which develops software that helps property managers make their multifamily developments and businesses more pet-friendly. It’s been ranked among the Charlotte area’s fastest-growing companies by the Charlotte Business Journal. Education: Bachelor of Science, Penn State University; Master of Business Administration, University of Maryland What is most special about your community? We’ve been able to build and maintain a very connected and healthy team culture at PetScreening. Having a pack of dogs in the office every day certainly helps. Biggest influence: My father and, more recently, my wife and two boys. My dad has a way to simplify things when times feel complex or uncertain, while always maintaining a good sense of humor. My wife and boys are incredibly supportive and remind me to stay curious.

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Most important character trait: Staying grateful. I believe people inherently want to help and are more willing to help you get to where you want to go if they’re appreciated and recognized. Company’s most important success: We brought FidoAlert.com to market, which is a free product and pet network that helps every lost dog and cat find its way home nationwide. Favorite volunteer activity: Coaching sports.

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PETER VON STEIN

TRUSTS AND ESTATES ATTORNEY, WARD AND SMITH Greenville The UNC Chapel Hill graduate interned for two judges before joining the Ward and Smith law firm in 2015. He has participated in the North Carolina Bar Association’s 4ALL Statewide Service Day, when attorneys volunteer their time and provide free legal advice to North Carolina residents. Last year, he was appointed to the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. Education: Bachelor of Science and Juris Doctor, UNC Chapel HIll

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What is most special about your community? I find that the people and leaders of Greenville genuinely want to see others in the region succeed. There is a palpable desire to help better the lives of our neighbors through opportunity and economic growth. Biggest influence: Greg Peacock, my law partner and a mentor since I first began practicing. His ability to connect with clients on a personal level is unmatched. I am often inspired by his creative approach to solving legal issues. Organization’s biggest success: Our clients tell us that we’re not like other law firms, and I know many fine attorneys in firms across the state, so the most impressive thing about our organization to me is our distinctive teamwork approach. It’s nice to stand out not just for what we do but for the collaborative, practical way in which we do it. Favorite volunteer activity: I enjoy serving on civic boards and contributing to organizations that help disadvantaged families get on their feet.

REID WILLIAMS

PRESIDENT | I-95/ I-40 CROSSROADS OF AMERICA ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ALLIANCE Dunn Williams worked as a budget analyst for state government and as director of economic development in Four Oaks before joining the alliance in July 2021. The group was formed a year earlier to promote economic growth in southern Johnston County and eastern Harnett County, aiming to capitalize on the region’s interstate highways. Education: Bachelor of Science, UNC Wilmington; Master of Public Administration, N.C. State University What is most special about your community? The people. There are so many eager to get involved in helping to make this community a better place for generations to come. Biggest influence: First and foremost, my family. They’ve provided unwavering support and encouragement my whole life. Professional mentors include Johnston County Manager Rick Hester, N.C. State Vice Chancellor Kevin Howell, former Wake County Manager Richard Stevens and former Four Oaks Mayor Linwood Parker.

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Most important character trait: Perseverance. I believe economic development to be one of the most rewarding but challenging fields to be in. Things can happen and change so quickly when managing complex projects with various stakeholders. Organization’s biggest success: The buy-in and collaboration that’s taken place among local, state and federal leaders, as well as private industry. Without them, we wouldn’t have experienced the level of success we have enjoyed thus far.

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BLAZING AHEAD This is the fifth year that Business North Carolina has highlighted business and civic leaders from smaller communities that often don’t receive much of a media spotlight. Here are some updates from previous Trailblazers.

2018

Sara Bell was featured in our inaugural Trailblazers because of the success of Saluda-based Green River Adventures and The Gorge Zipline, which she started with her husband, Tim. Last year, Sara was named CEO of the Polk County Community Foundation, which manages more than $75 million. “With her impressive entrepreneurial background and deep commitment to both Polk County and the Foundation, she is the perfect person to write the next chapter that the Foundation will play in our community,” board chair Tom Jackson said. The Bells’ adventure business employs more than 70 people in peak season for a variety of wilderness experiences, including one of the steepest and longest ziplines in the nation.

2019

Asheville restaurateur Katie Button filmed a third season as the host of Magnolia Network’s “From The Source,” a series exploring the origins and stories behind different food ingredients. It is expected to air later this year. Katie Button Restaurants has expanded beyond its Cúrate restaurant in downtown Asheville to include an online marketplace, wine club and culinary journeys to Morocco, Portugal and Spain. Earlier this year, the group added La Bodega by Cúrate, a market, pintxo, wine bar and cafe in Asheville. Cúrate Bar de Tapas won a 2022 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Hospitality, highlighting a decade’s worth of hard work and success. PHOTO OF KATIE BUTTON BY EVAN SUNG

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2019

Outdoor apparel retailers Cory McCall and business partner Rob Gasborro closed their Outdoor 76 store in Cherokee because of a lack of business during the winter season. After consolidating resources, the owners reinvested in their Franklin and Clayton, Georgia locations, which have seen significant growth year after year. In June, Outdoor 76 helped get the City of Clayton and Georgia’s Rabun County established as the 51st designated Appalachian Trail Community, a program that helps promote the famous trail running from Georgia to Maine. Local officials say the designation will help attract more hikers to visit the area. In 2019, McCall was appointed to the Southwestern Community College board of trustees.

2019

Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky of No Evil Foods in Weaverville have gained attention for their leadership in sustainability while continuing to expand their alternative meat company. Their latest product, Best Life Beef, is now available in more than 300 Sprouts supermarkets nationally. The company produces plant-based alternatives to meat. It has ranked in the top 100 companies listed in the FoodTech 500 by Forward Fooding and received Impact and Eco Innovation awards from Real Leaders. No Evil Foods is avoiding the use of plastic packaging, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, Schadel succeeded Woliansky as CEO. “She has always been the visionary heart and soul of this brand,” he said in a press release.

2020

Jeremy Smith started JSmith Civil in Goldsboro in 2016 with four employees and two pickup trucks. The construction company has grown like a rocket since then with more than 190 employees, according to its website. It has been ranked in Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies for the last three years. Its revenue soared 349% over that period. “We have had a tremendous year of growth, adding new faces to our team and even opening a new office. Our ranking, growth and success would not be possible without the hard work, dedication and integrity of all those at JSC,” Smith told Inc. Earlier this year, JSmith opened a Raleigh office. It has more than $45 million in projects in the Triangle region.

2021

Sam Rauf left Chatham County Economic Development to join its peer agency in Wake County. The move came before the N.C. Economic Development Association named him its “Emerging Leader of the Year’’ at its June annual meeting. Rauf helped colleagues including Chatham EDC President Michael Smith attract VinFast, the Vietnamese company that plans a large electric-vehicle assembly plant in the county.

2021

As head of the Wilkes County Tourism Development Authority, Thomas Salley worked with others to convince Speedway Motorsports to add a Nascar race back at North Wilkesboro Speedway. The racing circuit plans to host its All-Star race next year at the speedway, which hasn’t had a major Nascar event since 1996. More than $20 million in federal and state support will help improve infrastructure around the 75-year-old speedway. Nascar has deep roots in Wilkes and Salley worked with various community leaders to press for a revival at the track. Construction of Fairfield Inn and TownePlace Suites hotels will push the number of hotel rooms in Wilkes County to about 500 by 2024, Salley says.

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orth Carolina history was made in March, when Vietnamese electricvehicle manufacturer VinFast chose 2,500-acre Triangle Innovation Point in Chatham County for its first North American plant. The $4 billion investment is the state’s first passengercar factory and its largest economic development project to date. VinFast plans to build cars and buses at the factory, as many as 150,000 per year when production begins in mid-2024. That will require plenty of skilled workers — eventually about 7,500. And that doesn’t include ones to operate the factory’s supply 66

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chain, which is expected to develop across the region and North Carolina. It took many people to get the VinFast deal to its current point. And it’ll take even more to keep it moving forward. State and local officials, along with educators and private partners, are rallying to train and grow the needed workforce. N.C. Community College System officials, for example, have already earmarked $38 million for training customized to VinFast’s needs. That’s just tip of what will be needed for workforce development in a host of industries statewide. Boom Supersonic, for example, plans to create more than 1,750 jobs C A R O L I N A

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by 2030 at Piedmont Triad International Airport near Greensboro, where it’s investing $500 million to build supersonic passenger jets. Toyota is creating 2,100 jobs by 2025 at a $3.8 billion electric-vehicle battery plant that it’s building at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite. Add to that the 3,000 jobs Apple is bringing to Wake County as part of a statewide $1 billion investment and the up to 1,000 jobs Google is creating at its Durham engineering hub, part of a $7 billion investment nationwide. In Gaston County, for example, where N.C. Department of Commerce

PHOTO CREDIT: PITT COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Businesses arriving and expanding in North Carolina are creating thousands of jobs. Colleges and universities, along with public and private sector partners, are uniting to fill them with skilled workers.

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reports the July unemployment rate was 3.7%, plastic packaging manufacturer Sibo Venture is investing $10 million at a 6.2-acre site in Gastonia Technology Park. It will build a factory and create about 25 jobs over the next four years. The U.S. Postal Service will need an undetermined number of workers at the 620,000-square-foot building its leasing at Gateway85, a 300-acre industrial park along Interstate 85 between Gastonia and Lowell. And fresh-foods manufacturer Hans Kissle broke ground in June at the Apple Creek Corporate Center, where it’s building a $42.2 million factory that will create 219 jobs. All businesses are struggling to hire employees quickly, so workforce needs are critical, says Greg Smith, Gaston College’s vice president of economic and workforce development. “At one time, we used the term ‘skills gap,’ and we would talk about needing to get our residents up-skilled for the new jobs in our area,” he says. “But today, it’s more about having a people shortage, and that’s tough all around.”

“We’re working with nine other community colleges across our region and partnering with them in new ways to develop training and education programs to fill many jobs, whether it’s VinFast in Chatham County or Toyota in Randolph County,” she says. “These are massive employers. So, how do we respond to their workforce needs and appeal to a whole region of individuals who want to work at those places?” North Carolina’s regional Workforce Development Boards play an integral role in helping businesses find workers. “We think of workforce as an ecosystem, and the N.C. Department of Commerce, with its workforce development boards and career centers, is a huge part of the recruitment piece,” Roberton says. “They have resources that can help ensure people have access to

training, and it really is about all of us working together to create success.” There are 22 workforce boards statewide. Each addresses needs specific to its locale. “Every county belongs to at least one of those boards,” says Association of Workforce Boards Executive Director Stephanie Deese. “The local boards ensure we have a workforce in our communities that matches the skills local employers need,” she says. “Our boards offer specific programs for adults, youth, displaced workers and business services, where they can assist businesses with work-based learning. [They] work with their local businesses to identify the jobs they’re trying to fill, and they work with the community college system to get people trained for those jobs.” Workforce demand goes beyond recently arrived companies. Roberton

PHOTO CREDIT: UNC-CHARLOTTE

HELPING BUSINESSES Training workers to fill the growing number of jobs statewide requires an extensive workforce development effort. Leading it is the N.C. Community College System. Margaret Roberton, vice president of workforce development at Central Carolina Community College, helps plot strategies for training the army of workers that’ll be needed over the next decade. Partnerships, she says, is the name of the game. Winning it will require public and private sector entities to unite in a variety of ways. Student working on a solar project.

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says existing employers have ongoing needs, too. “We have a lot of great employers who are already in place, and they want to tap into our workforce, too,” she says. In addition to training and education efforts, apprenticeships are filling workforce needs of existing businesses. Apprenticeship is more than a buzzword. It’s an essential workforce-development program that provides on-the-job training, and in many cases a paycheck, too, for high school and college students, along with workers looking to retrain. Central Carolina Community College is working on training models that bring students to a classroom one day a week and send them to work-based learning at local businesses the other days. “When they come out of their apprenticeships at the end of eight or 10 weeks, they have job interviews already lined up with existing employers,” Roberton says. “These apprenticeships ensure our businesses that they have a robust pipeline of workers.”

HELPING WORKERS While Workforce Development Boards serve businesses and industries, Commerce’s network of NCWorks Career Centers help individuals upgrade their skills and find jobs. But they don’t do it alone. They also rely on a grassroots effort in their respective communities to define what’s needed and what’s available. “We have a system that’s online called Instant Works, where anybody in North Carolina can visit NCWorks online and look for available job opportunities,” Deese says.

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North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.4% in July, according to N.C. Department of Commerce. Chatham, Buncombe and Swain counties had the lowest unemployment rate in the state — 2.9%. Scotland County had the highest — 7.6%. Most economists consider 4% to 5% to be full employment. The July unemployment rate in Robeson County was 6.2%. So, the focus at Robeson Community College is short-term training, putting residents to work quickly. “We’re taking a deep look at the job market, the shortages, and building continuing education programs around those,” says Eric Freeman, the college’s vice president of workforce development, continuing education and institutional services. “We’re working on increasing access to training by offering classes online, on nights and weekends, and in a hybrid format, whatever individuals needs are.” Robeson Community College focuses on workforce needs in several industries, starting with transportation. The county’s proximity to several well-traveled interstates, including 95 and 74, provides an onramp to workforce development for supply chain management, distribution centers and truck driving. “We’ve started a truck driving school here, and the classes are full,” Freeman says. The American Trucking Associations says the county was short more than 80,000 drivers in 2021, and that number could double by 2030. Labor shortages in all transportation sectors have contributed to recent supply chain issues.

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HELPING INDUSTRIES Robeson County recently received $35,500 to complete a due-diligence analysis, including environmental assessments, archaeological analyses and mapping, of its COMtech Business Park, the first move to attracting businesses and creating jobs. The money was provided by Golden LEAF Foundation, which was established more than two decades ago to distribute the state’s portion of the national tobacco settlement to economic development projects in distressed communities that were long dependent on the state’s now dwindling tobacco industry. It has funded at least one project in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, says Scott Hamilton, the foundation’s president and CEO. Golden LEAF’s Community-Based Grants Initiative, for example, works across the state’s eight prosperity zones. Golden LEAF sets aside money for community improvement, inviting counties in each zone to apply for a share. “We are halfway through a second round of working in each of the prosperity zones and currently doing work in the Southeastern prosperity zone, where each county can apply for funding of projects of up to $1.5 million,” Hamilton says. Its Board of Directors awarded UNC Health Southeastern in Lumberton $500,000 in April 2020. The grant went toward expanding resources at its Gibson Cancer Center, where an $8 million expansion recently added access to care and created jobs. Golden LEAF funded 57 projects totaling $73.6 million in 2021. For Hamilton, one stands out — a SPONSORED SECTION

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WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

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$1.9 million workforce and talent development program that supports the growing biopharma and pharmaceutical industry in eastern North Carolina. Five counties — Wilson, Edgecombe, Nash, Johnston and Pitt, where the July unemployment rate was 4.3% — make up the Biopharma Crescent. The cluster, which is a stone’s throw away from the Research Triangle Park, includes some of the industry’s biggest international players such as Merck, Pfizer and Novo Nordisk. Pharmaceutical and biopharma companies need workers. “The Biopharma Crescent has leveraged the training programs at those community colleges to demonstrate the need for people with those skills in the biopharma and pharmacy industries in eastern North Carolina,” Hamilton says. But those community colleges don’t go it alone. East Carolina University in Greenville provides equipment to use in their programs, so individuals can train in their own communities, gaining the skills needed for immediate employment in the industry. The higher education partnership also provides a pathway for community college students to transfer to ECU, where they can apply credits earned toward a bachelor’s degree. “We have a great partnership with ECU to serve the pharma industry, particularly Thermo Fisher Scientific and Mayne Pharma here in Pitt County, because the demand for skilled employees continues to grow in that sector,” says Thomas Gould, Pitt Community College’s vice president of academic

PHOTO CREDITS: JOSUE FIGUEROA AND SPENCER DAVIS FOR UNSPLASH; PITT COMMUNITY COLLEGE

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Students getting hands on experience in the aviation program at Guilford Tech Community College.

affairs and student services. Seven years ago, Golden LEAF awarded Pitt Community College $650,000 to create the Pharmaceutical Services Network, an oral solid dose training program for the pharmaceutical industry. Courses began in 2017. PSN@PCC includes a partnership with N.C. Biotechnology Center and Pitt County Schools. Gould says the program focuses specifically on training for Mayne Pharma and Thermo Fisher, which announced it was adding almost 300 jobs in Greenville last year. “This is a state-of-the-art high tech oral solid dose training facility, and we can train both individuals just starting out in pharmaceutical manufacturing and incumbent workers already employed,” he says. “It is the only oral solid dose training facility in the southeastern region of the United States, and I would say hundreds of individuals have gone through that program.” High school students can enroll

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in PSN@PCC immediately after graduation, then land a well-paying job in pharmaceutical manufacturing upon completing the program. The community college also offers a one-semester BioWorks certificate program, which plows a direct pathway to an entry-level job in the industry. It’s popular with adult learners who are wanting to upskill or reskill. North Carolina’s textile industry remains an important contributor to the state’s economy. And like the others, it needs skilled workers, too. Gaston College, for example, married its Textile Technology Center in Belmont with Catawba Vally Community College’s Manufacturing

Solutions Center in Conover to form the Manufacturing and Textile Innovation Network. MTIN is building a regional workforce skilled in advanced materials and textile-testing development. “Textiles are much more specialized than they used to be,” says Gaston College’s Smith. MTIN’s multipronged mission is to create an end-to-end matchless resource for diversified manufacturing, applied research and development, textile testing, prototyping, business incubation and training. It serves companies globally and branches out into the manufacturing of other products. Gaston College also has partnered with N.C. State University to create

the Fiber Innovation Center, where students will learn the process of creating textiles that can be incorporated into everyday goods. “The Fiber Innovation Center will be built near the Textile Center, where we’ll collaborate to assist the textile industry across the entire United States because there’s really no other center doing what we do,” Smith says. ■ — Teri Saylor is a freelance writer from Raleigh.

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PLOWING NEW FIELDS

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&S Farms is in its third generation of family ownership. It started in 1952 with row crops — tobacco and cotton — on its acres between Greenville and Farmville in Pitt County. “Tobacco was a mainstay for us early in our farming career,” says its owner, Steve Sutton, who took over in 1974. “We farm about 2,500 acres of land, and that consists of about 1,100 acres of corn, about 1,400 acres of soybeans and about 400 acres of wheat that is in a double-crop situation,” he says. But times change. The Suttons began raising chickens and ventured into agritourism — adding attractions to bring customers and their dollars to farm — with Homeland Strawberries four years ago. It hosts school field trips and community events, educating visitors about agriculture, 74

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livestock and conservation, using its installed waterways and till and no-till acres as examples. N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts named it and the Suttons its 2021 State Conservation Farm Family of the Year. Agriculture continues to be a staple of Pitt County’s economy. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2020 statistics show it ranked fifth in the state for peanuts, seventh for cotton and soybeans, and 15th for corn, putting it 15th overall with cash receipts of $80.5 million. Add livestock and it jumps to 10th among the state’s 100 counties. But it’s not the only industry that’s growing in this corner of North Carolina. Thermo Fisher Scientific, for example, was Pitt County Economic Development’s Industry of the Year in

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2021. It’s investing $154 million to increase capacity at its 1-millionsquare-foot pharmaceutical production and packaging factory in Greenville. And in a $4 million rebranding, Vidant Health and East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine formed a partnership in May, becoming ECU Health, an eight-hospital network that serves 1.4 million people in 29 counties. Cultivating growth requires inputs, from partnerships to transportation improvements. N.C. Department of Transportation opened Interstate 587 — Greenville’s first interstate — in June. Its 37 miles touches Pitt, Greene and Wilson counties. “Transportation access is a major decision factor in economic development,” says Kelly Andrews, Pitt County Economic Development director. “The unveiling

PHOTO CREDITS: CITY OF GREENVILLE, N.C.

Always a leader in North Carolina agriculture, Pitt County is cultivating new industries, workers and infrastructure. And it’s already reaping the rewards of that work.

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of Interstate 587 is a major boost for our efforts in eastern North Carolina and Pitt County.” Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly says I-587 will lead to further growth for the county and region. “In the coming years, the DOT’s Quad-East plan that will connect Greenville, Wilson, Goldsboro and Kinston will be vital in our efforts to grow our cities, expand our workforces, spur economic development and make eastern North Carolina the best that it can be,” he says. “Over the next five years, we have to continue to ensure that our investment in infrastructure and the services we provide keeps up with the growth we are experiencing.”

INTERSECT EAST Tobacco buildings have stood in Greenville for decades, monuments to Pitt County producing the most tobacco in the top tobacco-producing state as recently as the mid-1990s. “The buildings were once tobacco auction warehouses in the first half of the 20th century … ,” says Tim Elliott, managing partner and chief visioneering officer of Marylandbased Elliott Sidewalk Communities. “Once the tobacco industry waned and that economic engine was gone, the buildings were briefly repurposed into retail and industrial uses then went vacant in the 1980s.” ECU saw promise in the tobacco buildings, which stand where its campus and downtown Greenville meet. So, it purchased them in 2007 then partnered with Elliot’s development company to turn them into a 19-acre residential, retail, office and industrial development that’s expected to be complete in 2029. “We named it Intersect East, because it’s at the intersection of history and the future … ,” Elliot says. “We added ‘east’ because it’s all about making

eastern North Carolina a contender in the growing university innovation hub market.” Intersect East will solidify Greenville’s “Hub of the East” moniker. The $275 million project is the nation’s first Pacesetter Innovation Hub. “By definition, a Pacesetter Innovation Hub is like an Olympic training center for champion businesses that can collaborate with university resources for workforce innovation, training and execution,” Elliott says. “Currently, Greenville is not known for its innovation center, and we knew to put it on the map we had to do something different.” Phase 1 of construction involves five buildings, three of which are historic. About 115,000 square feet will become office and research space and 110,000 square feet will become light manufacturing, research and industrial. Elliott says negotiations

are ongoing with prospective tenants, including some from New York and Brazil and “local corporate heavyweights.” ECU expects Intersect East, which eventually will consist of 1million square feet of space across 14 buildings, to produce $656 million in regional growth, bring 3,500 jobs and positively impact city, county and state tax revenue. “This is Greenville’s unique opportunity to catch the economic train, so to speak, that Charlotte, the Triad and Raleigh are experiencing,” Elliott says.

HEALTH CARE ECU Health and Franklin, Tennessee-based Acadia Healthcare recently announced they were building a $65 million behavioral hospital in Greenville’s medical district. Acadia, the nation’s largest standalone health company solely

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A view of the cupola at East Carolina University in the fall.

focused on behavioral health services, is contributing $50 million to construction. ECU Health is adding $15 million, including land. Brian Wudkwych, ECU Health public relations manager, says 2021 statistics ranked North Carolina 42nd to 45th nationally in treating mental illness. “[Partnering with Acadia] will deepen our level of expertise, implement best practices, increase the number of services we provide, enhance teaching opportunities with East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine, College of Nursing and College of Allied Health Sciences students and residents, and expand the continuum of care we offer,” he says. The 144-bed hospital, which is expected to open in 2025, will have 24 in-patient beds for adolescents and children. “These beds will be the first of their kind in ECU Health’s 29-county service area and the only child and adolescent beds within 75 miles of Greenville,” Wudkwych says. “Given the profound challenges facing our state in terms of access to quality behavioral health care, especially in rural communities, there is a tremendous need for innovative strategies to address these challenges. 76

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This new hospital is designed with those realities in mind. Prior to the pandemic, nearly one in five North Carolinians were experiencing a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder, according to a report from the North Carolina Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use.”

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT North Carolina’s 58 community colleges offer customized workforce training to businesses, including those in Pitt County. “The program was developed in recognition of the fact that one of the most important factors for a business or industry considering locating, expanding or remaining in North Carolina is the ability of the state to ensure the presence of a well-trained workforce,” says Sheila Ormond, Pitt Community College’s industrial training coordinator. AccuFlex Packaging, Attindas Hygiene Partners, DSM Dyneema, Greenville Produce Company and Hyster-Yale have used PCC’s customized training over the past year. Thermo Fisher’s recently announced expansion is expected to create almost 300 jobs, many of which will be filled by PCC-trained

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workers. Nine of its students completed a pre-hire training program in July. Coursework was customized to Thermo Fisher’s workforce needs by the community college. PCC prepares future workers in other ways, including partnerships with Pitt County Schools. One is Technical Academy. “[It] enables high school students to take courses in high-demand programs starting in the 11th grade,” says Technical Academy Director Lynn Griffin. “Students take classes at PCC every morning then return to their high school for lunch, third and fourth period. These classes count toward their high school graduation requirements and toward an associate degree.” Technical Academy debuted in the 2018-19 school year with 20 students. Enrollment more than doubled the next year. Students, who apply as sophomores, choose from six programs: Architectural Technology; Biotechnology; Industrial Systems; Electrical Systems; Computer-Integrated Machining; and Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration. “We have several high school students who have part-time jobs in their field of study making well over minimum wage and getting experience in the field,” Griffin says. “These students have the potential to move up the ladder very quickly.” Salaries for fulltime positions in these fields range from $35,000 to $79,000. Graduates can complete a college credential that they started while in high school through the Career and College Promise Program. “It allows students to take community college classes tuition free while in high school and receive both high school and college credit,” says Brian

PHOTO CREDIT: CITY OF GREENVILLE, N.C.

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Jones, PCC’s assistant vice president of enrollment services. “We have some programs, such as Electrical, that the workforce will hire students part-time after completing some courses that can be taken while in high school. However, most industries require a college credential, which is at least a year’s worth of classes before hiring.” Students who complete 12 credit hours at PCC as a dual-enrolled student are guaranteed their tuition will be covered for up to two years following high school graduation thanks to the Bulldog Promise Scholarship. “The only additional requirement is for them to complete the [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] each academic year and maintain good academic standing,” Jones says. “This provides an opportunity for high school students in Pitt County to complete an entire associate degree without having to pay any tuition.” Career and college preparation begins even earlier in Bethel, a small community about 15 miles north of Greenville. “I know how challenging

it is for children to succeed without supplemental support beyond the classroom such as mentors, tutoring programs and food supplements,” says Garrie Moore, founder of the Bethel Youth Activity Center. “I was raised in a good family where we had very little resources but knew the value of consistent hard work. I was determined to use my blessings and pay it forward.” Moore has worked several decades in higher education, including at PCC and ECU. He founded the Center for Science Technology and Leadership Development, a 501c3 nonprofit to provide leadership development training and educational support for children, and established the Bethel Youth Activity Center in November 2020, repurposing a former ABC Store. The latter welcomes about 20 students each day, helping with school assignments from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. then tutoring and other activities until 5 p.m. “This building continues to serve our youth and also serves as a Community Workforce Development Building,” he says. “We recognize

that not every high school student will attend college. To that end, we are positioned to work with schools and the community college to conduct apprenticeship training for any interested student.” Bethel Youth Activity Center is meeting growing demand for its services with the recent acquisition of the adjacent Southern Bank building. “We did not have the resources to purchase this building, but we were not without friends and supporters,” Moore says. The two buildings can accommodate 100 students. “[The bank building] includes expanded resources to provide literacy education, financial literacy and [science, technology, engineering and math] programs,” he says. “It was our youth who decided to transform the vault into a library. We now tell visitors that this vault now houses ‘intellectual capital.’” Moore’s efforts are growing. “Equally important to acknowledge is that we have expanded our collaborations to include other nonprofits and established [memorandums of understanding] with Pitt County Schools, Pitt Community College, ECU Health, Brody School of Medicine and ECU,” he says. “This collaboration affords us the opportunity to expand our mission to include opportunities for the community: workforce development, GED testing, health assessments and much more. I want to see every child have opportunities beyond the classroom that support their learning, growth and matriculation to college, technical training or work.” ■ — Kathy Blake is a freelance writer from eastern North Carolina.

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GREENSHOOTS — Revitalizing rural N.C.

WINDS OF GROWTH Whirligigs add zest, development to downtown Wilson

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Art galleries are among the businesses that have filled storefronts that sat empty for years. New additions include Casita Brewing Company, The Hub pizzeria and arcade, the Say Fresh Market grocery and a combination co-working space and coffee shop, Gig East Exchange. Kimberly Van Dyk has led downtown development efforts for more than a decade. She says city and county governments take an active partnership role with the business community. “It makes a huge difference when key organizations and leaders have a collective vision and are striving together to achieve that vision,” she says. The city recently converted several downtown streets from fast one-way traffic to two-way traffic with stop signs. Tech companies are showing more interest in the area thanks to Wilson’s Greenlight city-owned broadband service, Van Dyk says. It is unique in the state because it was developed before a state law banning municipal-owned broadband services. She’s also pleased to see so many locals involved in renovating the older buildings. It’s something of a race against time because of the ravages of time. A city-owned, 130-year-old building on Nash Street had to be demolished earlier this year because it was at risk of collapsing. “Over the next decade, we anticipate tremendous growth, increasing vitality, and continuing to create a welcoming place of opportunity and enjoyment for everyone,” Van Dyk says. ■

BY THE NUMBERS 47,851 ......... $87.6 ......... million

Wilson’s census population, 2020 Projected downtown investment in fiscal year 2022-23

$35 million ... Cost of new YMCA facility opening this fall

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Current downtown residents Apartments in new Centro at Pine-Nash

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he 2017 opening of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park has sparked something of a building boom in downtown Wilson. The whimsical wind-powered creations from the late folk artist have drawn hordes of tourists to the previously sleepy city center, prompting more art galleries, restaurants and shops to open in longvacant historic buildings. The city’s downtown development office lists dozens of buildings under redevelopment including a key ingredient for successful downtowns: Residential units. On the site of a former BB&T office complex that was demolished in 2020, Durham-based New South Ventures is developing a 240-unit mixed-use apartment complex that is slated to open in 2024. It’s the sort of building that’s common in downtown Raleigh and Charlotte but an unusual sight for eastern North Carolina. Residents can work out in a new 70,000-square-foot YMCA next door, while leaving their cars in a new adjacent parking garage — the city’s first such deck. The hundreds of Truist employees, many of whom worked at the site when it was called BB&T, haven’t gone far. Truist built a 95,000-squarefoot office building a block away and remains downtown’s largest employer. A few blocks down Nash Street next to the Amtrak station, the 1917 Cherry Hotel will soon get new life as a 100-room Marriott hotel with a restored, two-story ballroom. “Our revitalization began happening later than what some of our peer communities had experienced,” says Ryan Simons, president of the Wilson Chamber of Commerce. “We are just now at the front edge of a lot of growth and development in our downtown area.” The whirligig attraction inspired several artists to set up shop nearby, from handcrafted wood furniture maker Artisan Leaf to the colorful sculptures of Iconostar Art. The city’s investment in the Whirligig Park, Simons says, was “a signal to the arts community that Wilson is a place that embraces the arts and wants it to be a central feature of downtown and economic development.” C A R O L I N A

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