Megasites for Industrial Development Have the Power to Transform the State

    by Teri Saylor for BusinessNC

    Megasites for industrial development have the power to transform local communities and entire regions across the state.

    Significant landmass for industry is in high demand but in low supply, and that’s why the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina is forging new frontiers in megasite development.

    The North Carolina General Assembly boosted the Partnership’s efforts two years ago with a $1 million allocation to establish a Megasite Readiness Program.

    The EDPNC has put the money to good use, says Garrett Wyckoff, product development manager at the Partnership.

    “What we had been hearing from site consultants was the lack of decent industrial sites, not just in North Carolina but across the southeast,” he says. “So that laid the groundwork for us to respond to that demand, and when we received that allocation from the General Assembly in 2022, we put out RFPs and hired JLL, a site consultant we had worked with in the past.”

    The site consultant identified seven locations with the potential to become the state’s next “hot spots” for large industrial development.

    At the top of the list is the 2,187-acre Kingsboro Business Park in Edgecombe County outside Rocky Mount.

    Six years ago, the Kingsboro site was preparing to welcome Chinese tire manufacturer Triangle Tyre, but in 2022 the company withdrew its plans and returned the site to the county. Today, Kingsboro is the only shovel-ready megasite available in the state.

    The other six potential sites are in Brunswick, Wilson, Pitt, Nash, Cumberland, and Rowan counties. All are close to major highway systems with access to railroads and ports.

    Last year, the state allocated an additional $10 million to conduct due diligence on the sites and determine if they are viable candidates to add to the economic development inventory.

    Generally defined as 1,000 acres of contiguous landmass, North Carolina’s megasites have attracted the types of large-scale projects economic developers dream about and they have become home to some major players in the manufacturing world in recent years.

    North Carolina is already reaping benefits from its latest industrial residents.

    VinFast, the electric car manufacturer in Randolph County, and the Toyota battery plant and Wolfspeed in Chatham County are situated along the Highway 64 corridor stretching from the Triangle to the Triad. In addition to that line-up of major technology companies, the U.S. 1 highway is home to a quickly expanding cluster of biotechnology and life sciences companies such as Novo Nordisk, Fujifilm Diosynth, Amgen and others.

    Although the appropriations, hard work and due diligence are a step in the right direction, North Carolina won’t be able to refill its megasite stock overnight, Wyckoff says. It typically takes five to
    15 years from the moment a site is identified to the day it welcomes its first new company.

    “This is just the reality,” he said. “The legislature
    gave us money for this program in 2023, but that doesn’t mean we are going to have megasites we can market in a year or two.”


    In addition to funding megasite development, the legislature also allocated $10 million during its
    2024-25 fiscal year to fund a Select Site Program and asked the EDPNC to identify 15 other, smaller locations with development potential.

    “Our economic development community routinely receives requests for site information from companies that don’t need a thousand acres,” Wyckoff says.  “Just like we did for our megasite selection process, we contracted with a consulting group and an engineering firm to identify those select sites.”

    The process started by submitting requests for site suggestions to all
    100 counties and a variety of economic development partners. EDPNC narrowed the list to 60 potential sites for further assessment. Those assessment reports are due on May 17.

    “From there we will further cull the list and then put boots on the ground to make site visits and provide a report to the General Assembly in time for summer budget negotiations,” Wyckoff says.

    As Wyckoff sees it, there’s no time to waste. In recent years — even during the Covid pandemic — requests for information about potential industrial sites have gone through the roof. He attributes the increased activity to the state’s business friendly climate and other factors that have led CNBC to name North Carolina as the best state for business two years in a row.

    For all the state’s popularity, Wycoff identifies one challenge, and that’s an available workforce. Despite North Carolina’s reputation for a strong university and community college system, areas outside the major metropolitan regions are sparsely populated.

    “If workforce is not the No. 1 asset industries ask for in their requests for information, then it’s at least No. 2,” he says. “They want to make sure the area they select has a big enough population for potential employees.”

    Often site evaluators examine populations within a 30- or 45-minute driving radius when. Wyckoff says if the company is thriving, paying well, and offering generous benefits, workers will be willing to make the commute.

    For its megasite program, the EDPNC has conducted meetings in the communities where the top seven potential sites are located. An additional appropriation of $97.5 million for the next fiscal year will go toward site development. It’s a long laborious process, but Wyckoff says it will be worth it in the end.

    “If we want to continue to create jobs and investment for the state, we need more products available and we need to continue giving industries a reason to call North Carolina home,” he says.

    Above photo: Kingsboro Business Park, a shovel-ready megasite. Courtesy of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.