Pitt County officials are being urged once again to join a public-private economic development partnership, this time by the local chamber of commerce.

A downgrade in Pitt County’s economic distress ranking prompted Kate Teel, Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, to call on the Board of Commissioners to join the recently created Greenville-ENC Alliance.

About a month ago, the N.C. Department of Commerce announced Pitt County’s economic designation had dropped from a Tier 2 to a Tier 1, classifying it with the state’s most economically distressed counties.

“This recent announcement is a reminder of the importance of collaboration for the betterment of our community,” Teel said, in a statement released on Tuesday. “The Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce continues to support the public-private partnership (Greenville-ENC Alliance). As such, we must voice our concern over the Tier 1 status ranking and work towards strengthening local businesses and organizations to build our community back as a leader across eastern North Carolina and a competitor to our peers statewide.”

The Greenville-ENC Alliance was so named because of a regional focus to bring in new industry, grow existing businesses and build a qualified workforce to strengthen the region’s competitive position, according to officials.

The Pitt County Board of Commissioners chairman said on Wednesday he believes the county and the alliance can be partners.

“We want to send a message that we are going to be a partner with the public-private partnership of the alliance but to what extent our involvement will be, that has not been worked out yet,” said Commissioner Melvin McLawhorn, Pitt County Board of Commissioners chairman for 2020.

“We are not closing doors and we want to send a message that we are proud of what they are doing and we look forward to sitting at the table,” he said.

Pitt County’s economic distress ranking dropped to No. 33 in 2020, compared to No. 42 in 2019. Caldwell, Onslow and Wilkes counties also saw their rankings drop to Tier 1 status. Gates, Hoke and Surry counties saw their rankings improve.

Teel said the downgrade reflects the county’s inability to keep pace with other counties in the region and peer counties across the state.

Pitt County has had several large industrial expansions in recent years, she said, but has not had new industry bring in a high volume of jobs to the area for several years.

“You can only depend on the business and industry and private sector that is here now to create and sustain the growth,” she said. “If we are not having a large (industrial) announcement to create several hundred jobs, where will new jobs come from so we as a community can continue to grow?”

The Pitt County Public Information Office on Wednesday released a list of what it called notable economic development announcements that occurred in 2019.

  • Carolina Poultry Power: $32 million investment (December).
  • Acculink expansion: $150,000 expansion (October).
  • Grover Gaming expansion: Announced doubling the size of studios (November).
  • Thermo Fisher expansion: $74 million upgrade.
  • Grady White 70,000-square-foot expansion: Investment amount unavailable.

Such growth is good, but it is not enough, Teel said.

The chamber’s leadership believes Pitt County will suffer without a united economic development effort, Teel said. County industrial recruitment will remain unchanged, “resulting in a tremendous step in a negative direction,” she said.

“Therefore, the chamber requests that Pitt County and the Pitt County Development Commission reexamine their position on collaboration with the public-private partnership of the Greenville-ENC Alliance,” Teel said.

In 2018, Pitt County government, the City of Greenville, Greenville Utilities Commission and Pitt County Committee of 100, a former nonprofit development group, funded a study examining the viability of launching a public-private partnership to oversee industrial recruitment and other economic development activities.

In early 2019, the Board of Commissioners withdrew as a full partner from the plan.

But McLawhorn said the commissioners believe in unity.

“We believe in working together and we believe in promoting the best for the county, for Greenville,” he said. “We want to see a positive message that we are all in this thing together and we want to work together for the betterment of this county.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.