Connecting eastern N.C. to the world

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gov. Bev Perdue will address eastern North Carolina’s transportation issues, economic vitality, and “Connecting Eastern North Carolina to the World” at a conference in Greenville Friday.

Three regional economic development organizations — North Carolina’s Northeast, North Carolina’s Southeast, and North Carolina’s Eastern Region — have teamed up to host the Governor and key staff, and dissect transportation in the east by which a panel of experts will discuss the logistics of transportation in relation to the economy and take questions from the audience.

“We’re expecting about 200 people based on what we already had signed up last Friday,” said John Chaffee, President and CEO of North Carolina’s Eastern Region.

The event is open to the public and Chaffee is expecting participants from a wide variety of fields: agricultural, health care, manufacturing, essentially “anyone who has an interest in the transportation network of eastern North Carolina.”

The summit grew out of a joint effort by rural and metropolitan planning organizations that convened with the state Dept. of Transportation to decide priorities—key critical improvements, specifically road, that would open up transportation corridors to industry.

As an example, Chaffee spoke about the need to keep N.C. Highway 17 improvements pressing forward because the highway not only represents connectivity to destinations for tourists, but also serves military installations. Those military installations will be key for North Carolina industry in coming years, according to Chaffee.

“In light of the fact that 47 percent of our ground troops based east of the Mississippi River are in North Carolina between Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg, a large part of our strategy is what we can do to keep those troops based in eastern North Carolina,” Chaffee explained. “We’re treating the military like a corporate entity. It’s about logistics. What does the military need? What can we do to better serve the military, which helps them in the course of budget constraints they’ll face in the next decade. So how do we make the military more efficient than it already is?”

One way, according to Chaffee, is to improve vital transportation corridors, so that deliveries from defense contractors in the piedmont more efficiently reach their destinations at the region’s military installations.

The answers also lay in what Chaffee calls “multi-mobile centers,” integrated systems of highway, rail, airport, and ports.

It’s the ports that may prove crucial to eastern North Carolina’s economy in the coming years, however. Throughout 2011, mega-firm AECOM, which specializes in transportation, planning, environmental, energy, water and government services, was engaged by the Governor’s Logistics Task Force to create the “North Carolina Maritime Strategy,” an evaluation of North Carolina’s position, opportunities and challenges as a portal for global maritime commerce.

According to a statement on the “North Carolina Maritime Strategy” website, it is a growing emphasis placed on the value of exports to the U.S. economy, combined with the 2014 completion of the Panama Canal expansion, that puts North Carolina in a unique position to strengthen both the state and national economy.

Part of the North Carolina strategy includes creating “more efficient, effective and safe movement of waterborne cargo in and out of the state,” as well as facilitating “collaboration of freight transportation, economic development, and community interests.”

The strategy dovetails with the objectives of the Transportation Summit and its sponsors—to identify and address barriers to economic growth. For that reason, Chaffee expects a turnout of eastern politicians on Friday.

“It’s an opportunity for them to become informed as to the issues and what’s taking place,” said Chaffee.

“Connecting Eastern North Carolina to the World” begins at 8 a.m. Friday at the Murphy Center on East Carolina University’s campus. To register for the event, visit