Johnston County is not only among the fastest-growing regions of North Carolina, but the nation, with a growth rate of between 2.8% and 5.7% according to a county profile published by the North Carolina Department of Commerce. And U.S. Census data shows that Johnston County was the fastest-growing county in the state during the decade between the 2010 Census and the 2020 Census and an estimated growth rate of 4.9% between April 2020 and July 2021.
But even though Johnston County has between 102,000 and 105,000 wage-earners who reside in the county, nearly two-thirds of them commute across the county lines for their job, said Chris Johnson, director of Johnston County Economic Development, in an interview with WRAL TechWire.
“When I’m talking to industry, I note that we’re growing at about 4% annually, which means that we’re adding 8,000-10,000 people each year,” said Johnson. “The future workforce may not actually be living here right now, not yet, but they’re moving here from other places, from all across the United States.”
And all who follow economic development are aware that one of the most important factors for companies during a site selection process, if not the most important, is whether a company will have access to a diverse, skilled talent pool that would live within a reasonable commuting distance of the selected facility.
“When I talk to CEOs,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper at an in-person event at SAS headquarters to kick off MFG Day 2022 earlier this month, “the top three issues are workforce, workforce and workforce.”
WORKFORCE EXPANDING IN JOHNSTON COUNTY
Last month, the Johnston County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a performance-based economic incentives package for a planned expansion by Novo Nordisk, which Johnson told WRAL TechWire would bring hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to the county, plus hundreds of jobs.
And Novo Nordisk wasn’t the only company to announce an investment in Johnston County that day, as medical device company BD announced an expansion project that would bring $25-30 million in invested capital and at least 22 additional jobs to an existing site in Four Oaks Business Park, where it already employs 300 workers.
Earlier this year, Do Good Foods announced that it would invest about $100 million and bring 100 jobs to Johnston County, as the first business park tenant at Eastfield Crossing, a mixed-use community in Selma adjacent to Interstate-95 that is currently under development by AdVenture Development, LLC.
Kevin Dougherty, a partner at AdVenture Development, told WRAL TechWire that the Eastfield project began as a conversation around a kitchen table, but has now grown to a mixed-use site that will deliver more than 3 million total square feet of space with the potential to create between 3,500 and 5,500 jobs in the region.
“Bringing in new industries is a key component, but looking after our existing industries and what they’ve done is also obviously of great importance,” said Johnson. “Making sure that we provide a good quality workforce, locally, is critical.”
NEW WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE UNDERWAY
Johnston County has partnered with Economic Leadership, a firm that is run by managing partner Ted Abernathy that also recently collaborated with NC TECH to release the second Tech Innovation Index, to make sure that Johnston County’s talent pipeline develops the skillsets that employers need now, and will need in the future.
“Half of our workforce leaves our county every day to go to work,” said Joy Callahan in an interview with WRAL TechWire. “We’re figuring out how we can get those cars to turn around or to stay inside the county lines.”
And to sustain the county’s growth, it might take more than just attracting workers and companies to the region, said Callahan.
“We’re trying to make sure that our incumbent workforce is just as happy as the workforce coming in,” she noted. “Have a living wage, without having to spend two hours on the road every day.”
It’s a safe bet that the county will continue to add population, noted Callahan.
“We are in a good location to continue to grow, which is a great thing, and we want to be smart about it and we’ve got the talent ready to go when the jobs come in,” she said. “There is already so much opportunity here, right in our county, and it’s only going to grow from here.”
TRANSIT ACCESS: IMPORTANT FOR COMPANIES, BUT ALSO WORKERS
Sure, the transformation of US-70 to Interstate 42 may make it easier for Triangle residents to travel to the beach.
But it’s also an important transit corridor for moving freight from the coastline into the Triangle and Triad, and vice versa, Johnson explained.
Plus, it’s a project that will reduce travel times and commuting times from the eastern part of the county to the western part of the county, opening up residential development opportunities, as well as additional commercial development possibilities throughout the county.
So, too, will the completion of the 540 loop improve transportation access for workers and for companies across the entire region.
Selma, through which runs Interstate 95, sits not only at the midpoint of that major interstate highway, between Portland, Maine and Miami, Florida, but is also one of only a handful of places in the United States that have north-south and east-west rail crossings, noted Dougherty.
“People don’t realize, sometimes, what is available here, and the good bones that the county has,” said Dougherty.
ROADS AND RAILWAYS
Consider this: the most important road for the future of Johnston County may not be constructed within the county limits.
That’s what Johnson says, at least, noting that once the final leg of I-540 is completed, two notable site locations in Chatham County may be accessible from Johnston County within a commuting radius of 45-minutes: the new VinFast automotive assembly plant and the newly announced Wolfspeed semiconductor facility.
“That’s amazing, for all the folks who may want to live in Johnston County, but also for the supply chain,” said Johnson. “This now puts the whole county in play for economic and residential development.”
“The success of what we do here in Johnston County really does affect people beyond our county’s borders,” said Johnson. “All of our municipalities have done a great job ensuring that we’re all in alignment.”
Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire