CEO Norris Tolson Delivers Economic Christmas Cheer to Rocky Mount, NC.

William West writes for the Telegram and brings consistant fine reporting. He has written about Mr. Tolson’s message to the Chamber of Commerce concerning $249 million in potential investment and 806 potential jobs. We get mired down in the City Council and City Manager headlines. The reality of economic progress generated by the Carolina Gateway Partnership isn’t as sexy and can get lost. Let’s raise a glass of egg nog in thanksgiving for Mr. Tolson and his band of Christmas elves actually work year round in the economic world of Rocky Mount, NC.

The numbers amount to a total of $249 million in potential investment and 806 potential jobs, according to what Tolson told the Chamber’s annual economic summit on Dec. 2 at the Rocky Mount Event Center.

Of the five projects, Tolson said he and his team believe they will close on them in the first financial quarter of 2022, which would be between January and March, or by the second financial quarter of 2022, which would be between April and May.

“But they’re in that stage of development,” he said.

While he is bound by confidentiality with prospects not to publicly provide their respective names until commitments are confirmed, he showed a chart illustrating the following regarding the five on the list:

A project identified as “A” would be in Nashville and would have the potential to result in $7 million in investment and 46 jobs.
A project identified as “E” would be in Edgecombe County and would have the potential to result in $110 million in investment and 510 jobs.

A project identified as “EN” would be in Edgecombe County and would have the potential to result in $30 million in investment and 250 jobs.

A project identified as “K” would be in Edgecombe County and would have the potential to result in $100 million in investment and a yet-to-be-determined number of jobs.
A project identified as “ME” would be in Nashville and would have the potential to result in $2 million in investment and a yet-to-be-determined number of jobs.
Tolson leads an economic development organization based in downtown Rocky Mount and serving Edgecombe County, Rocky Mount and Nashville.

The Carolinas Gateway Partnership has quite a list of major successes since Tolson was named the organization’s chief executive in 2015.

A most visible example is the new CSX intermodal facility just on the Edgecombe County side of the Edgecombe County-Nash County line — and in the immediate vicinity of N.C. Wesleyan College and U.S. 301, and readily accessible to the Interstate 95 Maine-to-Miami corridor.

The facility is a place for freight trains to arrive, with the freight off-loaded onto other trains or trucks for distribution.

Tolson told the Dec. 2 Chamber gathering, “The intermodal has put Rocky Mount, the whole area of our region, on radar screens all over the world, but in particular all over the U.S.”

Factoring in both active and already-announced projects, Tolson said the total list of projects is at 66, with an investment or potential investment of $8.2 billion and 14,453 jobs or potential jobs.

Tolson also showed a chart illustrating the diversity involved in the Carolinas Gateway Partnership’s recruiting efforts.

Tolson said that while advanced manufacturing is dominant, he and his team are seeing increases in other services, primarily because of the intermodal facility.

He said that increase includes logistics fulfillment centers to help ensure orders are received, processed and filled.

“Interestingly enough, food processing projects are increasing in the area,” he said.

Overall, Tolson said, “The project flow is at an all-time high.”

“We are getting projects from all over the place,” with some of the contacts being international companies but with most of the contacts being domestic companies, Tolson said.

In addition to the Carolina Connector, Tolson outlined the other major drivers behind what the Carolinas Gateway Partnership is doing.

Tolson said the Rocky Mount Mills commercial and residential development off Falls Road and Peachtree Street has revitalized and is changing a city whose landscape will not be recognizable five years from now.

Tolson also said the Kingsboro Business Park, which is the megasite off U.S. 64/Future Interstate 87 between Rocky Mount and Tarboro, is doing very well, with a prospect on every acre looking at the potential of putting a business there.

Tolson also said the Tarboro Commerce Center on the southwest side of Tarboro and the Nashville Business Center off Business U.S. 64 near the interchange with U.S. 64/Future I-87 are doing very well.

Additionally Tolson said Nashville as a whole is doing well in terms of being a scene of housing, due to the town having been discovered as a bedroom community for a lot of places, including Raleigh.

Tolson also showed a chart illustrating projects he and his team consider to be “nearing conclusion.”

That chart was a list of 12 projects amounting to a total of $664 million in potential investment and 1,801 potential jobs.

“Some of them will go to conclusion — and we’ll close some of ’em,” he said.

He said the hit rate for closing by the Carolina Gateway Partnership presently is about 15 percent of the projects entering via the organization’s door.

Of the “nearing conclusion” list, he said, “We believe that we’ll get eight or 10 of these projects — maybe 12 over the next 12 months — that will move to some form of conclusion. And if our hit rate is right, we’ll close two or three of these also in the next 12 months.”

Tolson also spoke about a consultant who months ago advised him and his team what is needed to drive strong economic development, especially in the post-COVID environment.

The advice, in sum, was:

A recruiter has to have ready buildings and sites.
If a recruiter does not have any product or buildings and sites, then that recruiter will be out of the market.
If a recruiter is not ready when a prospect comes in via the door, then the prospect will head on down the road to someone who is.
Tolson said what consultants are telling the Carolinas Gateway Partnership is their client base is looking for speed to market, a business-friendly environment and competitive incentives.

“And in our case here in this area, CSX is attracting all of those things that we were told two years ago, four years ago that it would,” Tolson said.

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