Economic developers say local need is great

Published 8:57 am Thursday, February 19, 2009

President Barack Obama’s new stimulus package includes allocations for infrastructure and economic development that could trickle down to the Roanoke-Chowan area.

The $787 billion economic stimulus plan sets aside $46 billion for transportation projects, including $27 billion for highway and bridge repair, $6.4 billion for clean and drinking water projects and $7 billion to bring broadband Internet service to underserved areas.

Though how the funds are to be distributed at the state and local levels has yet to be seen, projects and needs in the area could benefit from the stimulus package.

Two local Economic Development Commission (EDC) directors spoke of the potential with the stimulus package in regards to the Roanoke-Chowan area.

“All of us in economic development recognize the importance of infrastructure, whether it is broadband conductivity, highways and bridges, airports and specialized specific projects in developing a sustainable economy on local, state and national levels,” said Northampton County EDC Director Gary Brown.

Brown was quick to note it is yet to be known how the stimulus funds are to be allotted to states, but from his conversations with General Assembly members and the Administration, funds may be allocated to projects with the most potential to provide immediate and long term job creation.

Brown said North Carolina as a whole could benefit from urban and rural highway infrastructure, whether it is maintenance, repair or expansion of existing infrastructure.

He added that northeastern North Carolina stands to benefit from the proposed U.S. 158 corridor (which would widen the road to four lanes), but how that project might be advanced by the stimulus package is yet to be seen.

Hertford County EDC Director Bill Early also spoke about the proposed widening of the route possibly benefiting from the stimulus package.

Early said the proposed U.S. Highway 158 widening (which would better connect Winton to Interstate 95) could benefit from the package. The widening of that stretch of road could attract interest from businesses and encourage economic development.

The road project could also support existing businesses as Early noted the route is heavily used by Nucor.

Early spoke about the area also possibly benefiting from clean and drinking water projects as well as Internet broadband.

“We always are in need water and waste water infrastructure, there may be some opportunity with that,” said Early.

Broadband Internet is often associated with economic development in supporting businesses to grow and educational institutes to provide better services to their students.

Early said broadband would be a vital tool for the area.

“There’s certainly a need there,” he said.