By the BF Staff
From the July/August 2019 Issue
More than 2,000 cities and towns in the United States light up their homes, businesses and streets with public power—electricity that comes from a community-owned and community-operated utility. Public power utilities are like our public schools and libraries: a division of local government, owned by the community, run by boards of local officials accountable to the citizens. In North Carolina, the energy behind public power is ElectriCities. Our nonprofit membership organization provides administrative, technical, legal and legislative support to 70 communities. We focus on people, not profit—and we’re smart about economic development.
Each public power utility is different, of course, reflecting its hometown characteristics and values. Bolstering these hometowns is crucial, and that’s where the ElectriCities Economic Development team excels. “The work we do runs the gamut of what our members might need,” says Economic Development Manager Brenda Daniels. Daniels oversees a team of three specialists focused on retail and commercial development, target sector recruitment and market research analysis. “We do a lot of foreign investment recruitment,” Daniels says. She travels regularly to meet with key companies on behalf of ElectriCities member communities, allowing the communities’ leaders to stay focused on providing safe, reliable, not-for-profit electricity at a reasonable price. “Right now, we’re really ramping up two sectors: defense and security, and food processing,” Daniels says. In the next quarter, she expects to bring textile, software, manufacturing and aviation companies to North Carolina public power communities.
With dozens of cities and towns to work with, ElectriCities Economic Development team stays busy and counts frequent successes. Daniels says a few new company additions include Corning Inc., a glass and materials company, and Triangle Tire, a Chinese manufacturer of large machinery tires, in Edgecombe County; E-N-G, a specialized vehicle manufacturer, in Fayetteville; and Caldwell Marine Designs, a boat manufacturer in Washington. New is not the only goal, either: “It’s always nice to have expansions in our cities,” Daniels says.
Food packaging manufacturer Best Diamond recently expanded in Kinston; and Blue Line Aviation expanded in Smithfield, building a new hangar and a flight school at Johnston Regional Airport. These are just the tip of the iceberg, Daniels says. “We do not only consider industrial recruitment. We look at retail opportunities: big-box stores, restaurants, even hotels. We really take the individual member’s needs into consideration to find the right fit.” The approach is nuanced, driven by people and not profit.
Considering members’ needs motivates ElectriCities to streamline and simplify economic development whenever possible. One standout example is the Smart Sites program, known as S2. “Smart Sites is our shovel-ready site qualification program,” Daniels explains.
“We go through a very rigorous engineering review on a piece of property before certifying it as a ‘Smart Site.’ Smart Sites are shovel ready for potential new tenants, which saves the company a lot of time and money,” she added.
Thanks to a partnership with the state, an ElectriCities S2 certification rolls into North Carolina’s similar shovel-ready program. This reduces paperwork and increases reach for new company recruitment. “Currently, we have 14 certified Smart Sites with a few more in process,” Daniels says, adding that the team has high hopes for the program’s future.