The new Executive Director of Brunswick Business and Industry Development (“Brunswick BID”), William S. “Bill” Early, brings 29 years of leadership experience to Brunswick County.
Early grew up in the northeastern Ahoskie area of North Carolina and spent a great deal of time on the family farm located just outside of Aulander. He graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelors’ degree in Business and Economics but hadn’t considered taking on economic development for a county.
Then, shortly after graduation, he saw an opening for a position in his home county. After researching the profession, he was intrigued. Early applied for the development position in Hertford County and began a great journey. Starting in 1988, he served as economic developer until his retirement in December 2017. Early realized quickly that he had chosen an occupation he truly loved.
“During my time in Hertford County, I assisted over 63 companies with new locations or expansions, resulting in $1.2 billion in new investment and just under 2,000 new jobs,” says Early. “The significance of this is the level of accomplishment in a rural Tier 1 county with limited resources and infrastructure.”
Throughout his career, Early has had many proud moments. “I would say the greatest was the successful recruitment of Nucor Steel to Hertford County,” explains Early. “I saw the importance of gathering the “Team” that was required from all aspects of State and local government to successfully recruit this company to a rural Tier 1 county. Nucor’s investment was projected to be $350 million with 300 direct employees with average wages of $60,000. At that time, Nucor was one of the largest announced investments in eastern North Carolina. Throughout the years, Nucor continued to grow, with increased investment, employment and average wages.”
Early’s goals for Brunswick County are to ensure that the State of North Carolina Economic Development Partnership and Department of Commerce knows that the County is open for business.
“Relationships in economic development are critical in gaining opportunities to compete for the attraction of new businesses,” says Early. “While I am still in the learning stages of Brunswick County, it is too soon for me to recommend any changes. I believe that the structure created in Brunswick County for economic development is a great model to operate by and that the local leadership had a good vision for moving forward.”
Early wants to understand the needs and desires of the local leadership when it comes to moving Brunswick County forward with new investments and jobs for its citizens.
“In the near future, Brunswick Business and Industry Development will begin to develop a strategic plan for economic development, soliciting input from key community leaders,” explains Early. “It is my desire to establish an identity or brand for Brunswick County at the conclusion of the planning process that will create the framework for developing our marketing strategy.”
And while Early hasn’t been on the job too long, he already has a good grasp of some unique challenges the County faces. The first is its sheer size, the second is the diversity of interests across the large County.
“A lot of attention is given to the northern area of the county due to the presence of outstanding infrastructure to include heavy electric supply, availability of natural gas and rail service as well as its close proximity to Wilmington and the port,” Early explains. “It is important to make sure we do everything within our ability to serve the entire County and make sure we identify potential sites and available buildings in all areas of the county that have potential for growth…I want to make sure more rural areas are given every opportunity to realize growth and economic opportunity.”
Early feels it is critical to build support for and collaboration within our communities to continue moving in a positive direction. For him, that starts with listening to citizens and local leadership, then engaging in effective education and communication. For Early, Brunswick BID is a public service organization.
Yet Brunswick BID has a place and is much needed these days. Early sees that there are many benefits to economic development in Brunswick County that would bring gain to residents.
“First, the investment made with capital expenditures adds value to the local tax base,” says Early. “These new revenues provide funds to the local governments to provide quality services to the citizens it serves. Secondly, it creates additional employment opportunities for the citizens residing in these areas. New employment opportunities also attract people into the area for quality jobs while providing population growth.”
Brunswick County and the region have unlocked a multitude of avenues in recent years that continue to transform the area into a more global, technologically dynamic community. So when Early looks toward Brunswick County’s future, he is nothing but optimistic.
“Examples to note consist of the opening of the Queen City Express providing direct rail access from the region to the Charlotte International Airport ranking fifth-busiest airport in nation (The Charlotte Observer), increased major hub flights from ILM, the completion of Interstate 140 providing direct access to major trade corridor Interstate 40 connecting us to the Research Triangle, and the continued aggressive expansion of the Port of Wilmington’s capacity and reach collectively elevate the regions stock regarding speed, power, and convenience to the global market,” says Early. “As an exponentially evolving logistics hub, comes the intersection of multiple industries and a transfer of knowledge and technology which nurture and grow the talents of our citizens – making us truly dynamic.”
While Early works to bring new industry, he also takes pride in supporting existing companies as they search for ways to grow their businesses. Brunswick BID aims to pull resources together to help Brunswick businesses achieve their goals. He knows the two goals, bringing in the new and buttressing the existing, are part of the same objective: strong businesses in the County.
“My favorite aspect of working in economic development is when you get the company to choose your area, knowing that you are the best location for that business and how it will support your local goals,” explains Early.
Early believes that one of the most pressing concerns facing economic development across the nation today is keeping elected officials and the general public educated on the importance of economic development, the process and a realistic understanding of the level of competition for projects.
“The reason for this is the reality that elected officials change and your population changes,” says Early. “Having informed leaders and citizens improves an area’s opportunity for success in development efforts.”
When asked to recall a particularly memorable moment in his career, Early responds that there are several. One that still makes him laugh involves a business’s attorney who wanted to walk and view a site that the company had chosen. The property was located along the river and was being developed for barging. It was a forest at the time and the attorney wanted to view the river from the site. As they walked through the woods, something fell from a tree. The landowner, who was leading the way, pulled a machete from under his arm and told them that a snake had fallen in front of them. At that point, the attorney stopped dead in his tracks and decided he had seen enough of the property. “Needless to say, we never made it down to the river!” laughs Early.
Early is excited to both work and reside in Brunswick County.
“My favorite part of living and working here is the diversity I see within the County,” explains Early. “I have discovered that Brunswick County is an area that is forward thinking and eager to continue improving the quality of life and employment opportunities for its citizens. I see a county positioned for growth and with a great deal of potential.”
Learn more about Brunswick BID (Business, Industry, Development) at brunswickbid.com.