Kerr-Tar Region, North Carolina -- Community leaders in Franklin, Granville, Person, Vance and Warren counties in North Carolina are moving ahead with plans for the Kerr Tar Hub, a regional collaboration for transitioning a rural area to the new economy.

At its July 21 meeting, the five-county exploratory committee of regional economic developers, county managers, elected officials and community college presidents reported the recommendations of work groups considering how to select, govern and enhance a site for a technology park to attract investment to the five-county region served by the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments (COG).

"Now we're getting down to the hard decisions," said Neil Mallory, the executive director of the Kerr-Tar COG, whose staff is facilitating the hub planning effort.

Site Selection. The process for selecting the best site for the hub will allow each of the five counties to put forward its best site for consideration, as Benny Finch of Vance County reported for the Site Selection Work Group. The final site selection will be based primarily on its location advantages (e.g., accessibility to four-lane roads, airports and population centers) and the cost to develop the site to a “shovel-ready” point (as estimated by an outside engineering expert). Other considerations are the size of the tract (at least 300 acres), the degree of public control of the land, utility capacity, and the economic condition of the host county.

The hub site should be far enough away from the Research Triangle Park to serve as a new hub for rural job creation, said Sam Watkins of the Vance County Economic Development Commission. The hub likely will be linked to RTP by high-speed telecommunications and business-to-business relationships but also serve to spark other development with the Kerr-Tar Region.

Ownership. The exploratory committee also discussed on Monday the complex issue of how to share costs and benefits of a multi-county hub. The recent passage of House Bill 1301 by the N.C. General Assembly makes it simpler for several local governments to engage in joint projects for economic development. The Kerr-Tar Hub leaders also want to attract private partners to the project, which will require giving them a cut of the benefits and a say in how the hub is managed. Some type of public-private authority may be the way to give all the players a role and to ensure enough independence and continuity of management to attract businesses to locate in the hub, said Leslie Stewart of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office of Economic Development. That office conducted the feasibility study for the hub concept and is providing technical assistance for the project.

Enhancements. Attractive green space, on-site college training, high-tech conferencing capability and recreational facilities are among the key amenities that will be needed to attract business investment to the technology park, said Phil Baer from the Person County Economic Development Commission, a member of the Land Use and Facilities Work Group. The park also will need to provide a range of services to help tenant business be competitive and grow as well as provide design flexibility to serve tenant space needs at different stages of development.

External Relations. A project Web site, www.kerrtarhub.org, has been developed to inform local leaders and interested others about the hub project and its progress, said Dr. James Owen of Piedmont Community College, a member of the External Relations Work Group.

The Exploratory Committee members expect to complete an overall implementation plan for the hub by the end of 2003 and begin developing detailed business plans and design in early 2004. The committee agreed Monday to seek implementation funding from the Golden LEAF (Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation), the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the N.C. Department of Commerce and others.

“This is going to be a long-term project,” said committee member and Granville County economic developer Leon Turner. “Plowing new ground will require open minds and patience.”

The Kerr-Tar Region is out front of others in the state by moving forward on a collaborative multi-county effort, said Bill McNeil, director of community assistance for the N.C. Department of Commerce. Others around the state are looking with great interest at what the Kerr-Tar group is doing, said Leslie Stewart.

For more information contact Neil Mallory, (252) 436-2040, or Leslie Stewart (919) 962-8871.

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