Residents of Eastern North Carolina might be skeptical about an ivory-tower institute in Chapel Hill taking on the work of a homegrown foundation formed to boost the largely rural local economy. But by some accounts, the affiliation two years ago of the Foundation of Renewal for Eastern North Carolina Inc. with the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute for Free Enterprise at UNC Chapel Hill has worked out for the best.
FoR ENC started strong in 2002 with backing from politicians and major businesses including Raleigh-based Progress Energy Inc. and RBC Bank, then based in Rocky Mount but now in Raleigh. The Greenville-based nonprofit served as an agent and merchant banker for companies investing in the region. It helped developers acquire property and permits for Sandy Point, a 1,000-acre residential project on Albemarle Sound near Edenton. That project is stalled, though, and construction isn’t likely to begin until the economy improves. It also worked with communities to move away from old-line industries and attract knowledge workers. To foster a regional identity, FoR ENC reserved trademarks for the term “Inner Banks” — a reference to land along the state’s coastal inland waterways — and promoted it widely.
But it never got full backing from key constituents, says Phil Carlton, a Pinetops lawyer and former co-chairman of the foundation. Other economic-development organizations viewed it as an encroachment on their turf. Corporations and individuals in the region didn’t provide enough money.
It announced its affiliation with the Kenan Institute in May 2007. Phillip Horne, former FoR ENC president and now associate dean of the business school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., says combining the two groups meant “more could be brought to the table in terms of human and financial capital.”
By summer of the next year, the institute had taken over the foundation’s operations. Horne later changed the name of FoR ENC to the Inner Banks Development Foundation Inc. It does business as IBX Foundation Inc. and, among other things, publishes a newsletter about the Inner Banks lifestyle. Institute officials say the foundation’s work continues, including a proposal to expand broadband Internet service in 20 northeastern counties and a waterfront development plan for the town of Hertford, along the Perquimans River.
Kel Landis, former FoR ENC chairman and former CEO of RBC, says the foundation succeeded in spurring communities to think about economic development in broad terms, not just obtaining grants. Carlton takes a philosophical view. “It didn’t turn out like I hoped. But life goes on.”
Sea watts going on
The race is on to harness the wind along North Carolina’s coast. Duke Energy and UNC Chapel Hill are teaming to place as many as three wind turbines in Pamlico Sound, probably near Avon, by October 2010. The pilot project, which could generate up to 10 megawatts of power, builds on a UNC study that touts the state’s virtues as a source of wind energy. Duke will pay for the turbines, expected to cost “tens of millions” of dollars. Meanwhile, Chapel Hill-based Outer Banks Ocean Energy Corp. is studying three locations off the coast for a $900 million, 200-megawatt power station. It would tap wind power with 50 turbines and eventually harness waves and currents below. The company still needs to find buyers for the electricity it hopes to start generating in 2014.