People - June 2007

Cheap won’t reap the jobs he wants
By Chris Roush

It’s bad enough that Vann Rogerson has to overcome an ethics scandal involving his predecessor. What may be worse in the long run is that bragging about cheap labor doesn’t lure companies to northeastern North Carolina like it used to. “Those jobs are now going offshore,” says Rogerson, CEO of Edenton-based Northeastern North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission.

Instead, Rogerson will focus on industries that already operate there, including aviation, biotechnology and boat building. He’s also hoping Virginia businesses will expand across the state line. About 15,000 residents of his 16-county region work in the Old Dominion, and Rogerson, 52, says cheaper land and better schools will draw operations of Virginia companies south.

The region should get a boost in July from the opening of the Randy Parton Theater in Roanoke Rapids. It’s part of the Carolina Crossroads entertainment complex, which is supposed to create more than 2,400 jobs. It’s also one of the projects that gave the commission a black eye. Last year, State Auditor Les Merritt reported that CEO Rick Watson had negotiated a job with Dolly Parton’s brother while on the commission’s payroll. He criticized the body’s lack of internal control and its board’s oversight of management.

Rogerson, who had been vice president of marketing, says a new ethics policy requires departing employees to wait a year before taking a job with a client. “The biggest key is that our board is now involved in every decision.”

His decisions are formed partly by his Eastern North Carolina upbringing. Born in Martin County, he grew up on a tobacco-and-peanut farm and got a bachelor’s in business from UNC Chapel Hill in 1977. After four years as a certified public accountant in Raleigh, he managed a Trailways bus franchise in New Bern. He moved home in 1991 to start the small-business center at Martin Community College. Most of the past decade, he has been regional marketing director for the state Department of Commerce and worked for the commission, which has four employees and an annual budget of $1.3 million.

Seven of the 16 counties in the region are considered economically distressed by the Commerce Department. That’s yet another obstacle to overcome, but it’s one with an upside: Companies moving to those counties are eligible for lucrative financial incentives.