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The Carolina Commerce and Technology Center, Inc. (COMtech) is an actively managed 501 (c) (3) corporation founded in July 2000. It is responsible for developing an 800-acre, expandable commercial and industrial site in central Robeson County, North Carolina. The focus of COMtech is to grow and develop a premier capability to support meaningful, long-term workforce & economic development.
We are home to a diversity of commercial and industrial partners in: healthcare, architecture & engineering, education & training, financial services with business incubation facilities and affordable, flexible sites available.
The mission of COMtech is to provide an advanced workforce training center to attract, incubate, and partner with dynamic businesses that drive economic growth and quality of life improvements for the people in our region.
COMtech will support aggressively our customers’ goals and objectives with the complementary capabilities of our education, training, government resources, and business partners. COMtech will insure that superior facilities and effective management create an environment supportive of the business success of our customers. We will measure success by:
- The results of our efforts to attract business and industry that create new jobs.
- Our customers and partners earning greater profits and higher levels of achievement when accomplishing their goals and objectives.
- Improvement in the quality of life for the people of Robeson County and the region.
Guiding Business Principles
- Promote growth of COMtech and enhance economic development in Robeson County and the region.
- Maintain, strengthen and expand the COMtech partnership.
- Always operate ethically, with honesty and integrity.
- Maintain clear and open communications with our partners and the community.
- Always pursue sound business operating principles. Be accountable for our actions.
- Always exceed expectations.
- Respect and maintain the quality of our environment.
- Aggressively honor our commitment to foster positive economic change in our region.
COMtech Strategic Plan Overview
- July 2000 – COMtech incorporated.
- Phase I (Year 1 – 5 Focus): Establish a basic presence by developing the on-site infrastructure and operating partnerships sufficient to move the Phase II. This will be a period of little or no return on investment requiring substantial external contributions.
- Phase II (Year 2 – 7 Focus): Continue Phase I and begin aggressive search for customers. Link the services and capabilities of the site and the supporting partners to the needs of our customers to enhance their opportunity for success. Encourage and support quality of life initiatives in surrounding communities.
- Phase III (Year 5 – 10 Focus): Continue previous phases and integrate fully the business and industrial operations of our customers and our supporting education and training partners to enhance retention, growth and profitability of COMtech. Attract a broader customer base. Aggressively market the advantages of COMtech and the region.
- Phase IV (Year 10+ Focus): Continue to pursue the economic transformation of Robeson County and the region through support for regional development. Develop financial strength to directly assist economic development both within and outside of COMtech. Continue aggressively to pursue objectives defined for previous phases of development.
Robeson County is a predominantly rural county in southeast North Carolina. Historically, its economy has relied on agriculture (primarily tobacco) and textiles. Both sectors have suffered extensive setbacks over the past few years. This has resulted in a declining regional economy, characterized by low per capita income, and a declining economic base. These very conditions offer unparalleled opportunity to transform the economy and create a better life for the people of the region. There is an abundant, highly trainable workforce with extraordinary traits of loyalty and a strong work ethic. The COMtech approach to workforce development leverages this asset.
COMtech was conceived as a catalyst to spur a regional economic transformation. The education and training component of COMtech is designed to provide an on-site capability to train, and continue to re-train, the employees and management of businesses and industries locating in Robeson County – in a very focused, efficient, collaborative manner. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, long the intellectual capital of the region, offers unique opportunities for business and industry to leverage productive management, business incubation, and research relationships. As the region changes to a new economy, those who share the vision early will reap the greatest long-term reward.
The Location of COMtech
The concept, the need, the potential, the location, the political and economic nuances of COMtech were examined in great detail during an intensive ten month study from 1998-1999. Not only were there presentations and questions from well over 1000 citizens in various groups, but there were in-depth interviews of hundreds of randomly selected citizens, particularly political, business and industrial leaders from within Robeson County, and also from other areas in the state and country. Location was an issue thoroughly assessed.
Proximity to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke
UNCP partnership in COMtech has been and remains essential to our long-term success in attracting hi-caliber, enduring business and industry. University participation in new business incubation offers both business expertise and the prestige of a university expanding its horizons, enrollment, and recognition as an emerging star in the UNC system. Its affiliation offers a premier marketing advantage to COMtech and the region.
Both politically and from a business operations perspective, UNCP could not disperse geographically too far at too rapid a pace. Broader faculty participation in areas such as biotechnology and business and marketing support are made possible by a relatively approximate location. Infrastructure support costs are reduced for UNCP when a satellite location is reasonably close to the main campus (mail, meetings, cable/networking costs, etc.)
Robeson Community College participation
RCC is essential to the success of COMtech both through its continuing education program (i.e. 56% high school dropout rate ’98-’99), and through its operation of a business/industrial training facility on site to meet the needs of business and industry.
Prior to COMtech, RCC was growing rapidly and had nearly reached the limit of physical expansion at its current location. A high proportion of its students are from the central and western part of the county. It leased several “eye sore” buildings around Pembroke to help with the student load from this area. New facilities in a county-central location were both logical and needed. The COMtech location fit the needs of RCC, and RCC fit the needs of COMtech—-a rare win-win partnership.
Politically, we sought a location near the geographic center of the county, not aligned with any municipality. Over 300 in-depth interviews explored this issue exhaustively. There is about a 90% acceptance of a central location, a 30% acceptance of a Lumberton location, and even less for other municipalities (support for the COMtech concept was over 94%). The most rudimentary logic would lead to the selection of a site that would be accepted by the majority of citizens in the county.
Land Price & Availability
The original COMtech site was 612 acres, but has expanded to approximately 806 acres with potential to expand further. Usable, contiguous, environmentally acceptable land tracts of this size are not available in municipal areas.
COMtech exercised an eight year land option for $5000 per acre (years 1-4) and $6000 per acre (years 5-8). This was considerably more cost effective than other industrial sites that ran as high as $20-25,000 per acre in some cases.
We sought a site that could be marketed as outside a municipal tax zone. This affords tax savings to business and industry as well as savings from dealing with the additional regulatory regimens of locating within a municipality. We have made sure that the same level of infrastructure support is available in COMtech as is found in a municipal area.
The I-95 Myth
Numerous businesses and industries were questioned regarding the necessity of locating directly on an interstate. Surprisingly, all gave similar responses. Location along an interstate is important, but only commercial establishments need their flashing neon signs to be visible from the interstate. The business and industrial leaders spoke in terms of interstate corridors and easy access from an interstate. Fifteen minutes is preferred. Many say they will not locate beyond that time frame. COMtech is six minutes from I-95, two minutes from I-74 and seven minutes from the 95-74 interchange. While other sites were closer in miles, they were further away time wise, and some involved traversing city traffic. COMtech, located in the vortex of I-95 and I-74 is in a superb long-term location for the type of customers we seek.
Control of Surrounding Areas
Because of its location, COMtech will be able to influence the growth surrounding its site, primarily because the surrounding areas are mostly underdeveloped. Prudent zoning and escalating land values will permit the type of supporting development needed to showcase the beauty of the COMtech site. Other sites examined were far more developed and less flexible around the fringes.
Magnet (Career-Tech) High School
Planned development of the magnet (career-tech) high school required a central location to facilitate transportation and countywide participation and to ensure that it not be located too near an existing high school. The COMtech site not only meets these requirements, but also is equal distance from all fringe areas of the county.
The majority of those interviewed conceptualize space in miles not time. For instance, in places like Washington, D.C. and Honolulu, one hour commutes to travel ten to twelve miles are common, but this is not a common event in Robeson County. While COMtech is accessible from any point in the county in approximately twenty minutes at most, the factor of miles cause many to use the term “way out in the country”, despite its location six minutes from I-95 and two minutes from I-74. Over time, and with continued expansion of population and economic growth, COMtech will become a lot closer to everyone.
Notwithstanding all of the above, COMtech is a project with a mission to support the economic growth and improve the quality of life of the people of Robeson County and the region. While there are internal growth objectives and strategies, COMtech is not simply an end unto itself. In meeting its broader objectives, it is irrelevant where COMtech is located, so long as it can accomplish its mission. COMtech participates and is engaged with every Chamber of Commerce in the county and supports their activities. COMtech will support the marketing effort for all industrial sites in the county. A measure of our performance is economic growth in Robeson County and the region – not just internal success. Our Board of Directors and Advisory Council represent all regions of the county. The scope and vision of our partners are certainly not restricted to the COMtech site.
The vision for COMtech is to serve as a catalyst for growth in the region. It has never been otherwise. We are not competing; we are trying very hard to facilitate, support and encourage economic and social transformation that can only occur if someone leapfrogs the status-quo and serves as a catalyst for change. Those few, who somehow do not or will not accept this premise, do at times use the location of COMtech as a red herring. With the help of Almighty God, a lot of hard work and perseverance and outside help in our start-up years, we will succeed. As we become more successful, most of the misconceptions held by a very few will melt away. Our focus is 25 years and beyond today’s generations.