Nearly half of the prospective companies economic developers spoke to in recruiting efforts last year were foreign, according to Steve Yost, president of North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership.
And of the international firms his organization is working to bring to the region, there are a couple potential prospects that could pan out -- industries that could bring investment to the region if they choose North Carolina.
Yost was one of two speakers at the Realtors Commercial Alliance of Southeastern North Carolina's first quarter meeting. The gathering, held at The Terraces on Sir Tyler on Wednesday, focused on economic development, international investment and efforts to bring Realtors and brokers into the economic development equation.
His presentation was followed by a talk from Mike Landes, director of political operations for
"With the N.C. Economic Development Association, our association of the economic development community in North Carolina is really starting to formulate a much closer working relationship with the N.C. Realtors ..." Yost said. "I think we all need to be working more together on economic development. We have the same interests, same goals overall ... in terms of what we do."
One of the trends economic developers are seeing both at the state and national level is “foreign direct investment,” Yost said. There are more than 20 countries that are represented with business operations in the Southeast region, he said, adding that in the next three or four months, the region could be adding a couple new flags to the list.
"We already have a pretty strong base of foreign-based companies here in Southeastern North Carolina. We have over 65 different foreign-owned companies. About 70 percent of those are manufacturers. And those companies employ tens of thousands of people in Southeastern North Carolina," Yost said.
Last year, about 45 percent of all the prospective firms economic developers spoke with were international, Yost said.
The reason? More international companies are wanting to set up manufacturing operations in the U.S. market for that “made in the USA” label, Yost said. The nation, he added, is also becoming more competitive again as some manufacturing operations are reshoring after relocating off U.S. soil years ago, he said.
There's also a strong basis of interest in the Wilmington micro-region, an area of North Carolina's Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, focusing on customized marketing strategies for New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties. International firms are currently scouting the Wilmington micro-region and other areas of Southeastern North Carolina, Yost said.
Marketing efforts for the Wilmington micro-region include highlighting its assets, which include the highway system, local airport and proximity to the port.
International trade is important to the overall economy of the state, he said, adding "these companies create jobs, and we’re working with them right now."
To add to the economic development equation, N.C. Realtors is working on several efforts to bridge the gap between brokers and the international industry. The N.C. Realtors Global Network, launched in January that stemmed from the association’s economic development committee, have efforts underway toward enhancing opportunities for brokers to engage in international trade, Landes said.
"One of the focuses of the economic development committee has been this idea of building a global network," he said. "For most commercial brokers, it would be hard to find one that hadn't engaged with an international buyer or investor or seller at some point or another."
N.C. Realtors is attending an international real estate conference in France called Mipim, he said.
"There are 14,000 exhibitors, there are another 10, or 12,000 attendees or potential investors. And we are sending a delegation for the first time this year," Landes said of the event, which will be in March. "We have done months of prep work for this. We've got materials, pitch sheets ... online resources. And we really see this as a great opportunity for our membership."
A delegation of N.C. Realtors, including N.C. Realtors Global Network chair Tony Harrington
, will attend the conference.
"They are going to this conference specifically with interests in raising awareness about North Carolina as a place to do international investing ... and ideally to come back to you with opportunities for networking and chances
to build your businesses based on what we will be getting out of this," Landes said to attendees at the meeting.
And on the heels of the France conference, the delegation is set to head to Austria.
"One of the things that the National Association of Realtors has done is create a program that connects our state-based associations with Realtor associations around the world. And our partner is Austria. They are very enthusiastic about building a relationship and exchange with North Carolina, and this is our first kind of step in that water of building up that relationship," Landes said.
This, he said, begins a multi-year effort to "bring North Carolina to the international stage."
Landes said that more local efforts are also taking place that focus on the opportunity to connect Wilmington to the global marketplace.