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Bank Leaders Explore Post-Hurricane Life in New Bern

New Bern, N.C. welcome sign

Richmond Fed leaders made a Community Conversations visit to North Carolina recently and saw firsthand how one riverfront community has successfully rebuilt after both a hurricane and the pandemic, and how other nearby localities are finding ways to remain economically sound.

New Bern sits at the convergence of the Neuse and Trent rivers near the North Carolina coast. The city garnered national attention in September 2018 when Hurricane Florence devastated the area, damaging or destroying homes, shuttering businesses and causing $100 million in damage.

“What is remarkable there is the extent of damage that occurred during Florence and the resulting economic recovery,” said Richmond Fed Community Development Manager Erika Bell, who participated in the visit with Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin and Richmond Fed Regional Executive Matthew Martin.

Community Conversations are the Bank’s visits with business and community leaders in a particular region of the Fifth District to learn about the well-being of that area and to exchange economic updates and ideas. The visit to New Bern and Kinston took place over two days in late September.

While in New Bern, Barkin, Bell and Martin were informed about how strategic hazard mitigation planning before the 2018 hurricane helped leaders clean up the city and welcome residents and tourists back sooner than might have otherwise been possible. Following Hurricane Florence, the community and its leaders immediately rallied to build on their existing plan, which has resulted in a comprehensive resiliency plan, one of the first of its kind in rural North Carolina. It includes six community identified resiliency pillars: housing, health and safety, infrastructure, cultural heritage, economy and natural resources.

Because of its unique location, the city continues to welcome tourists and resettling families, and there is an abundance of military retirees from the nearby Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point who are available to help fill civilian jobs.

Many of those jobs stem from the air station’s facilities and maintenance needs, which are related to the anticipated arrival of the some of the military’s first F35 squadrons.

“The employment for this three-county area is fully recovered, and the city manager said sales tax revenue is at a new peak,” Martin said. “Retail and tourism have fully recovered from a revenue standpoint.”

During their visit to the Cherry Point Naval Air Station, home to both the 2nd Marine Air Wing and Fleet Readiness Center-East, the Community Conversations team learned that flood damage from the 2018 hurricane still impacts base housing. This has contributed to a tight housing market in the area. Barkin and Martin were enlightened on how military construction is funded and the need to be competitive with their bids.

The group also visited with business and community leaders at Mother Earth brewery in Kinston, where they discovered that just as in other parts of the nation, it can take time to access funding to aid flooding resiliency or infrastructure improvements to promote downtown development. The team also met with the leaders of Global TransPark, a thriving regional airstrip with an ample runway. The TransPark is home to Spirit Air Systems, which builds a fuselage section for airbus planes, and to Fly Exclusive, a leading private air travel company and the largest employer at the airpark.

“Due to ongoing supply chain issues, materials and other inputs can be slow getting there, and recruiting employees remains a challenge, even though pay for workers who range from mechanics to pilots is competitive,” Martin said.

Martin, Bell and Barkin left this region of North Carolina both impressed and inspired, with some tangible takeaways they can share with similar-sized communities about planning ahead, pivoting and maximizing available industries and infrastructure to grow the regional economy.

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Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)