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Eco Dev

Posted on: June 8, 2021

Craven County is a 'can-do' community, business leaders discuss rising economic growth

Craven County Industrial Park_Courtesy New Bern Sun Journal

Story by Julia Masters, New Bern Sun Journal

The Board of Comissioners approved the sale of an 8-acre tract of land in Craven County Industrial Park to Aeronautical Systems Incorporated at their June 7 meeting. The company will invest $5.6 million to expand into Craven County and create 38 new jobs over the next 5 years.

Aeronautical Systems Incorporated to invest $5M, create 30 jobs as part of New Bern expansion

"This tackles both targeted industries of aerospace and military defense; we couldn't have asked for a better partner for us within the industrial park," said Jeff Wood, director of economic development for Craven County.

Wood said that the combined growth of exisiting businesses at the industrial park is just as important to the county's economy as the larger scale investments.

"You take all the developments in the industrial park over the last two and a half years and you're talking about $16.5 million worth of investments and over a hundred jobs that have been created between six or seven different ventures," Wood said.

Carolina GSE poised for growth

Founded in Craven County almost 20 years ago, Carolina GSE moved to its current location in Craven Industrial Park after the onset of the pandemic. Carolina GSE is an aviation consultant company that supplies aircraft ground support equipment and avionics test equipment worldwide.

"We've really been able to hone-in on aerospace, that target industry.  Why that's important is because the level of pay in the aerospace industry; not only does it fit our economy, it's usually really good paying jobs," Wood said.

Led by President John Werner, the company has grown from just three total employees to 22 in just two years.

"We are really in a growth type mode of expanding and looking at other avenues to add to our product portfolio along with the service side," Werner said.

Carolina GSE is developing a program with Craven Community College that will allow students to learn trade skills hands-on and generate interest in the industry. They will have classes come to the headquarters and have a few students work part time with them as they attend college.

"Craven is a can-do area, and I think that permeated through its workforce as well," Wood said. "We are competing with locations all over the world so that's why we have to continue to invest in our workforce programs, in our communities.  We got them here, now we have to help keep them here and help them grow."

The tight-knit community led Brian Connolly to bring his two businesses to Craven County this past year.

Both McGuckin & Pyle Inc. and Chesapeake MFG joined the Craven County Industrial Park community last year after the pandemic forced non-essential manufacturers in Pennsylvania to shut down.

McGuckin & Pyle primarily works in automotive lamination and manufactures OEM machinery, fabricates structural components and is a machinery parts manufacturer and supplier. Chesapeake MFG is a certified SeaDek provider.

"It's a really tight-knit community, everybody really supports each other, which is wht we really liked. We were welcomed with open arms when we moved down here," Connolly said.

Other than the atmosphere, Connolly was drawn to Craven County as McGuckin & Pyle filled a gap in machining and fabrication and liked marine-related activity.

In August, they will start an apprenticeship program with Craven Community College that allows top candidates to see what it's really like to be in an industrial environment.

Andy Schneider, president of Chemac Inc., looked at Craven County's future

After looking at different locations along the east cost, Schneider decided that Craven County Industrial Park was the best place to move his company--which produces high-pressure industrial machinery--over the last year and a half.

We looked at the future, we didn't look at was already here, although it had been growing," Schneider said. "The potential in the future is something that we saw here."

Schneider said his future goals include building out the service side of his company as well as holding events in New Bern's downtown convention center for customers and suppliers.

He added that the real beauty of the new location is to be able to impact the area and help the community of Craven County grow along with his business. He hopes Chemac Inc. will bring diversity to the area as well as pay it back.

"The biggest thing is not only diversity, but the payback for the area that we are in," Schneider said. "I think we like to give back to where we are being accepted."

Challenges and positives to developing in Craven County

The county is facing two main challenges to economic development: labor shortages and high cost of materials--both of which ring true in many places across the country.

"It's not the quality, it's the quantity," Wood said, speaking of issues with labor. 

One way they work to combat labor shortages is through a campaign where they pay for a google ad for a company's job opening. Wood said he is hoping that the material costs are just a ripple effect from the pandemic and will level out.

Wood said the Craven 100 Alliance, a partnership aimed at advancing Craven County's economic investments, has an industry council that explores ways to grow and attract potential investors. 

Recently, they looked at things like an experimental grant to better utilize existing public transportation routes to the industrial park.

"We try to give our industry a voice to be able to say this is what we need to grow, this is what we need to do," Wood said.

Another unique aspect of the park is its $750,000 investment in water and sewer throughout the property from the county department, Craven 100 Alliance, Duke Energy and State Department of Commerce that keeps spaces viable for prospective buyers.

The park has a warehouse with materials and supplies in the event that a hurricane harms any of the companies in the park as well.

For a population of 102,139, Craven County has a diverse economy which helps keep it stable. Companies are not reliant on something already here, so if something were to happen to them, it would not take out the entire industrial sector.

"Americana still exists in Craven, but come visit," Connolly said, a line commonly used by Schneider.

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