NC saw ‘record breaking’ 2021, Department of Commerce official tells Rowan Chamber

Published 6:22 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022

SALISBURY — Even with complications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenny Flowers says last year was historically successful for economic development in North Carolina.

Flowers, assistant secretary for rural economic development at the N.C. Department of Commerce, said the state added 24,225 jobs through 185 business recruitment, expansion or rural development projects.

“I think that’s phenomenal,” Flowers said. “This is a record breaking year for North Carolina. These projects will bring $10.1 billion in capital investment into the state market, an all-time high for economic development performance.”

Flowers delivered the positive report to local business leaders at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s Power in Partnership event on Thursday morning. The monthly breakfast is typically held in person at Trinity Oaks, but it was hosted virtually this month due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in the community.

The theme of the Power in Partnership was 2022 economic outlook. Flowers not only recapped 2021, but he offered an optimistic preview of the new year.

“When we talk about projecting how we’ll look in 2022, I think 2021 is a good example of where we’re going,” Flowers said.

As assistant secretary of the Rural Economic Development Division, Flowers works to help rural communities attract businesses through a number of grant and strategic planning programs.

The division focuses its efforts on rural parts of the state and counties designated as Tier 1 or Tier 2 in the state’s economic distress rankings. Rowan County returned to Tier 2 after being listed as Tier 1 county in 2021. As a result of its Tier 2 status and its rural tracts of land, Flowers said Rowan County is in a prime position to take advantage of the division’s resources.

Flowers pointed out that 71% of economic projects in 2021 were located in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties.

“During 2021, the majority of our projects were in rural and economically distressed communities across this state,” Flowers said.

Flowers said his division is currently putting the finishing touches on its rural engagement and investment program. The new program, he said, was made possible by $50 million in funding appropriated in the state budget passed in November.

A key component of the new program will be to distribute grants to local governments to purchase properties to make way for economic development opportunities, Flowers said. About half of the $50 million has been designated for that purpose. Flowers said a program like this has never existed before.

The $50 million appropriation will also help provide more funding for the Rural Economic Development Division’s Main Street Solutions Fund. The fund hasn’t had resources since 2017.

“Our Main Street Solutions Fund is there, but there haven’t been any resources in there so we’ll have some funding for that,” Flowers said.

Salisbury is a designated North Carolina Main Street community.

Flowers told the audience watching the Power in Partnership to look out for more specifics about programs and opportunities available through his division.

The Chamber will host its next Power in Partnership on Feb. 17 at 7:30 a.m. The event will serve as the annual legislative breakfast, but speakers have not been announced yet. It has not been determined if the event will be held virtually or at Trinity Oaks.

More information about the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Rural Economic Development Division can be found online at nccommerce.com.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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