RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Today, Christopher Chung, chief executive officer for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, is expected to sit on a panel to discuss North Carolina’s future at the 17th Annual Economic Forecast Forum hosted by the NC Chamber and the North Carolina Bankers Association. He recently chatted with WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam about the state’s failed bids for Amazon and Apple, what lessons have been learned, and what opportunities the future holds.

  • What’s the outlook for 2019? Any big projects in the pipeline?

Christopher Chung

We’re starting off 2019 with more than 200 active recruitment and expansion projects of all sizes and industries in the pipeline.  Collectively, these deals represent the potential for tens of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in new investment, but we know each individual deal would be impactful to whichever community it selects.

Our goal remains to work with the Governor [Roy Cooper], the Legislature, the Secretary of Commerce, and all our other partners to win as many of those 200 deals as we can.  We’re excited to get up every day to do exactly that.

  •  Apple just announced its first round of expansion projects, but seems to have passed on NC. Have you been in touch with them? Did they give any explanation?

I’m not in a position to respond.

  • The Triangle also lost bids for Amazon HQ2 and the army headquarters. What went wrong? What could the state have done better? 

For Amazon’s HQ2, I think it was clear from the beginning that the size of the Triangle market would be one of our biggest hurdles to overcome.  Ultimately, when Amazon chose to split HQ2 between the largest metro in the U.S. (NYC) and the 5thor 6th largest metro (DC/Northern VA) because it was concerned that neither market on its own could have fulfilled the need for 50,000 new hires, that clearly showed that the size of the market was a top factor in the company’s final analysis.  Amazon’s short list of 20 metros had large markets like NYC, Chicago, and LA, as well as smaller markets like the Triangle, Columbus (Ohio), Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis, so clearly they started off the process wanting to understand how each market could help them reach those staffing goals; not surprisingly, they ended up opting to take their chances on two of the largest markets in the country.  That said, I think it’s still tremendous validation for the Triangle and for North Carolina to have been among the 20 markets that Amazon considered capable of being home to something like HQ2.

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As for the Army Futures Command, that was a very different decision-making process than your typical corporate site-selection project, in that issues like congressional dynamics conceivably played an influential role.  We benefitted from a North Carolina congressional delegation that – along with the Governor, the Legislature, and our military community – did everything possible to make the case for North Carolina, and we know we had an exceptionally strong case.  At the end of the day, though, did Texas have some added edge in terms of political influence compared to North Carolina and other states?  I think that’s a fair analysis of how the AFC decision shook out.

  • What are some of the biggest lessons learned from the recent bids for Amazon and Apple?

During the HQ2 process, we learned a lot about how to sell our strengths for a project of that magnitude, and those are lessons we will keep applying to future pursuits, large and small.  And I can’t say enough about the strong collaboration between Raleigh and Durham, not to mention the overall teamwork among the various state, regional, local, and private-sector partners who joined up to go after HQ2.  It’s just further affirmation of the notion that economic development is always a team sport.

  • There have been several good announcements in December — namely, IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat and Pendo adding almost 600 jobs plus several projects in Charlotte. Can the state take encouragement from that?

Anytime companies locate new operations in North Carolina and anytime existing companies choose to further expand their operations here (e.g. Pendo), those are important validations for the business climate of the community, the region, and the state.  Those decisions also signal to other companies that this is an attractive location, which in turn draws further interest and investment in the area.  And when companies invest here from outside the state – either by acquiring companies (e.g. IBM and Red Hat) or by investing in the start-ups and early-stage firms that started here – that’s also validation of the quality of innovation and enterprises in the state.

Doesn’t mean there’s not more work to do to keep making this an even better place for business and for innovation, but absolutely, these kinds of headlines have a tremendously positive impact on what we’re all trying to do.

  • Looking back over the last decade, what has NC gotten right in terms of retaining talent, resources and big businesses? And what does the state still need to work on?

Over the past decade since the Great Recession, the war for talent among all industry sectors has never been fiercer as the economy keeps growing and the labor market gets tighter.  As a result, our efforts benefit greatly from showing that North Carolina is an appealing destination for the types of talent that companies want to hire – in other words, we try to show them that North Carolina will be an easier place for them to recruit new hires to, compared to other markets in the U.S. that are more expensive or might not have the same quality of life advantages we enjoy here.

Going forward, how do we bolster that strong reputation with continued investments in “building block” fundamentals like education (K-12, community colleges, and universities) and infrastructure (roads, airports, transit, broadband)?  How do we make sure to have the resources to get the word out about North Carolina to both prospective employers and prospective talent from around the country and around the world?  And how do we ensure that economic growth is touching as many communities across the state possible?  Those are the questions to be thinking about as look to improve on the state’s past success.

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