A snapshot of business in Kinston and Lenoir County is positive, area economic leaders say, with the area in position to make even bigger strides.
Leon Steele serves as the executive director of Pride of Kinston, the nonprofit organization dedicated to growing downtown Kinston.
“We get a number of calls from people interested in the listings, either for office space or retail,” Steele said.
One of those recent calls came from a developer in California. He said one of the reasons is that Kinston is now being recognized by those interested in business.
“Investors are coming in and recognizing us as a valid bedroom community,” he said.
The current business climate in downtown serves to attract others, he said. Success stories such as H. Stadiem, and Parrott’s general store, and strong restaurants such as Hawk’s Nest Café, Boiler Room and Chef & The Farmer, create a positive business atmosphere in Kinston. And those successes are changing people’s perceptions of Kinston, he said.
“There is this lingering misconception that Kinston is dangerous. It’s not,” he said. “We are changing those people’s thoughts.”
As part of that effort, Pride has a Kinston Kindness tab on its newly designed website at www.downtownkinston.com where people can go and post about a good deed or pleasurable experience while downtown.
Steele said a few recent building purchases have been made in the district, but “we have a few buildings that can be had, but it’s starting to get tight.”
He said the next step in the development process is for more residents to move into the downtown area, including the Mitchelltown historic district as well as in downtown itself, where some residences are located above commercial development in some buildings.
Steele also points to an end to road construction and pipe construction that impacted downtown streets.
“It’s going to make a big difference,” he said.
He said the bottom line is that downtown Kinston is becoming a destination. With that in mind, Pride has rebranded its annual summer music series. Kinston Summerfest features live music on selected dates from June through August at Pearson Park. Bands such as Bounce, scheduled to play during the July Fourth celebration, and the Super Grit Cowboy Band, set to play Aug. 23, not only entertain crowds but draw people to downtown Kinston to see what it’s all about.
“People are coming to downtown and having a great experience,” Steele said.
While downtown Kinston is seeing retail successes, Mark Pope, Lenoir County economic developer, said industrial and manufacturing are looking good in the county as well.
“Especially with manufacturing and economic development, we’re busy,” he said. “People have been calling and looking us up. We have a lot of good potential.”
He said Lenoir County offers a wide range of employment opportunities in areas that include manufacturing, technology, aerospace and agriculture, among others.
“We have a lot of clusters and we’re seeing action in each one of these groups,” he said.
He said improved roadways offer greater connectivity to North Carolina’s ports, and the Global TransPark offers air opportunities for transport.
He said partnerships are important and he credits work with officials in Craven and Wayne counties for help in designating the three counties as the Aerospace Corridor.
Conversations about the Aerospace Corridor began two years ago, with the three counties signing an agreement in March 2017. A website, ncaerospacecorridor.com, has just been launched through a partnership with North Carolina’s Southeast, a regional economic development organization that acts as the marketing muscle behind the Aerospace Corridor.
“The website is up and we’re already getting hits on it,” Pope said. “We have a lot to tout. I’m very excited about it.”
The goal is to capitalize on a skilled aerospace workforce with ties to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and its Fleet Readiness Center East aircraft repair and maintenance facility, and the GTP in Lenoir County.
He said the people of the area are a key asset to economic success.
“Our people, we have so much to offer with our people that are ready to work,” Pope said.
He said there was a time when Lenoir County was losing jobs. However, he said, area leaders and economic developers throughout Eastern North Carolina have learned from those downturns and have taken steps that will help the region and Lenoir County in the future.
“We’ve gone through the vision and the planning,” Pope said. “We’ve prepared our industrial parks. We’ve had some great partnerships with Duke Energy and ElectriCities for site readiness. When bad things happen, it’s important to know how to grow from that, and we have grown from that.”