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Chamber’s State of the Community luncheon spotlights new events center, hospital expansion

City and county leaders come together to champion progress, challenges


The Greater Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce held its annual State of the Community luncheon on Thursday at the Crown Complex Expo Center. 

With about 600 people in attendance, organizers said it was the largest crowd in the history of the gathering. The audience included Fayetteville city, Cumberland County and state officials; business leaders; and public schools administrators.

N.C. Department of Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson ended the program with an appeal for an end to divisive politics.

“I got into public service and elective office back in 2010, and there were political norms in place in 2010 that drew me to public service, that give me a level of appeal to public service,” Dobson said. “Well, those political norms have just been turned on their head, and what used to be normal is not normal anymore.”

Dobson, who formerly served in the N.C. House and is in his first term as labor commissioner, said he will not seek reelection because of that divisiveness.

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said that the “state of our city is strong” in his opening remarks.

“Fayetteville is not just a place on the map,” Colvin said. “It’s a thriving community where the spirit of unity, progress and resilience continues to shine brightly. We are definitely a can-do city on the move.”

He noted that earlier this year the city won, for the fourth time, the National Civic League's All-America City award. He attributed the achievement to the city’s “commitment to creating a thriving community through youth engagement.”

To illustrate Fayetteville’s success, Colvin recapped recent accomplishments:

  • During the pandemic, the city invested $2.9 million to support small business.
  • In downtown Fayetteville, 77,000 people participated in 47 events and more than 4.1 million people visited downtown in 2022. 
  • The city had $584 million in new investments last year.
  • Fayetteville Regional Airport contributed $813 million in economic impact. 
  • The Murchison Choice Neighborhood Plan has “revitalized” that underserved community.
  • Amazon announced two investments in Fayetteville. 
  • Economic and Community Development announced the My Future’s So Bright initiative, with $90,000 going toward empowering at-risk youths ages 14 to 24, giving them career exposure and providing skills to succeed. 
  • A “historic investment” in the city’s infrastructure, including $5 million in stormwater and other projects and $60 million of other projects that are ready to be developed. Nearly $20 million to replace aging bridges and infrastructure, 54 miles of streets paved and 33 miles of street pavements at a cost of $11 million that will be undertaken in the next few months.
  • The city launched affordable housing initiatives, with a voter-approved $12 million bond package, and $800,000 for the 72-unit Beaver Creek Landing project, where 37% of the households are “cost-burdened.” 
  • A “historic investment” in homelessness, with the Day Resource Center providing support services to the unhoused community, and a transitional housing project with 170 units through a motel conversion. 
  • A $60 million investment in public safety projects planned over the next few months.

Housing market overview

Melissa McKinney, president of Longleaf Pine Realtors’ board of directors, gave an overview of the housing market in Cumberland County and 10 surrounding counties for 2022 and 2023. 

“We are in one of the biggest housing shortages that we have seen in decades,” McKinney said, attributing the shortage in part to local and state zoning and permit regulations.

McKinney presented a wide array of statistics on the state of the housing market. 

The time a house is on the market until it sells has increased since last year, with an average of 21 days on the market in 2023. Last year, the average was 12.5 days.

Median sales price for new construction has increased by 7.2% since last year, with new houses costing $422,000 on average in 2023 compared to an average of $399,075 in 2022. Median sale prices on existing homes have gone up by 4.2% since last year, with costs going from an average of $336,000 last year to $350,000 this year. 

The inventory of homes for sale has gone up slightly since last year, though it is still not enough to meet the growing demand of homebuyers, McKinney said. For houses costing $350,000 or more, inventory went from 2,144 homes in 2022 up to 4,848, an increase of 126%. Meanwhile, for houses costing $150,000 or less, available inventory went from 207 in 2022 to 169 in 2023, a decrease of 18.4%. 

McKinney also spoke about mortgage rates. She said interest rates are high but they could be higher. A 30-year home loan, she noted, rose to 7.09% last week; a year ago, the rate averaged 5.13%.

McKinney concluded that, even with higher interest rates, buying is always better than paying rent. She suggested that people work on their monthly budgets and purchase within those parameters. She said an eventual decline in interest rates could increase competition and lead to bidding wars again, so now is as good a time as ever to become a homeowner. 

“If we wait for tomorrow and our crystal ball is incorrect and interest rates don’t go down, then we still need that home to live in,” McKinney said. “So, if you need a home, it’s always a good time to buy a home.”

Cumberland County Board of Commissioners

Chairwoman Toni Stewart of the Cumberland County Commissioners highlighted some achievements over the past year and discussed plans in the works.

“This is a pivotal moment in our county’s history,” said Stewart. “We are moving forward on a number of major projects and initiatives we believe will be transformative for the county.”

Over the past year, the county opened an emergency services center for 911 calls; opened a Women, Infants and Children clinic at Fort Liberty; and used funding from the American Rescue Plan to help Fayetteville State University and Fayetteville Technical Community College pursue “forward thinking initiatives.”

The county is working to implement a range of projects, including: 

  • Beginning construction of the Crown Event Center in early 2024. It will replace the aging facilities at the Crown Complex.
  • Upgrades to the Ann Street landfill, including a new scale house and expansion before space runs out in 2030. 
  • A new coffeehouse at the West Regional Library designed to teach life skills to developmentally disabled workers and provide them with employment opportunities.
  • The construction of a homeless support center that includes a shelter and facilities to connect people in need with resources. 
  • Improvements to water and sewer service in the Gray’s Creek neighborhood to address PFAS contamination. 
  • Planning for a new government services building for county departments. 
  • Funding construction of a new E.E Smith High School.

These projects represent more than half a billion dollars in funding, according to Stewart.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve as chairwoman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners this year, and I am encouraged by the progress we are making in these key priorities,” said Stewart.  

Cumberland County Schools

Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. spoke about the achievements of Cumberland County Schools in the 2021-22 school year, including that 89% of all county schools met or exceeded growth expectations.

“Our work in public county schools is directly connected to quality of life,” said Connelly.

The district had more than 50,000 students in the 2022-23 school year and a budget of $611 million. 

“Our unwavering focus has remained on our willingness that every student deserves a high-quality education, irrespective of their home life or other obstacles,” he said. 

Cape Fear Valley Health

Daniel Weatherly, Cheif Operating Officer of Cape Fear Valley Health, shared updates on plans to expand access to health care services.

Cape Fear Valley has eight hospitals with a combined total of more than 1,000 beds, he said. 

Weatherly said a two-story, 100-bed upgrade of Valley Pavillion is underway, which will include inpatient rooms and 40 more intensive care beds to keep up with the need. It will also feature rooftop helicopter pads for airlift needs. 

“We’re so excited about the growth of the health system,” said Weatherly. “(We) truly appreciate giving us a chance today to kind of tell you about what we’re doing.”

In addition, Weatherly cited other plans for the health care system: 

  • The creation of a medical school in collaboration with Methodist University.
  • The expansion of clinical trials through the Carolina Institute for Clinical Research. 
  • Construction of a 15,000-square-foot adolescent behavioral health care facility at Harnett Health, as well as a cancer center. 
  • Expanding the Dorothea Dix adolescent behavioral facility from 12 beds to 16. 

North Carolina Department of Labor

Josh Dobson, the state commissioner of labor for the past two years, opened his remarks by reiterating his prior announcement that he will not be running for reelection. He said politics has become too divisive in recent years.

Dobson said the workforce shortage is “as bad as it seems.” 

“In 2008, there were two workers for every one job,” Dobson said. “Now, there are 10 jobs for every one worker. I checked the unemployment rate in our state yesterday, and it’s about 3.5%. If everybody that’s on unemployment in North Carolina goes to work tomorrow, there are still 160,000 vacant jobs that need to be filled in our state. That’s the magnitude of the problem.” 

Despite the challenging shortage, Dobson said there are solutions, including:

  • Increasing investment in child care, such as subsidizing child care centers.  
  • A change in education to deemphasize the importance of a bachelor’s degree to find secure employment and encourage high school students to think about getting a two-year degree at local community colleges. 
  • Addressing the behavioral/mental health crisis, which has led to a high suicide rate among youths and exacerbated the opioid epidemic. 
  • Offer employees flexible work schedules.
  • Give better opportunities to those with criminal records so they can enter the workforce and improve their lives upon reintegrating into society. 
  • Expand Medicaid, which could help about 500,000 North Carolinians get health insurance coverage. Under current rules, many people who qualify could lose health care access if they get full-time jobs, while still not making enough to get health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. 

“If we close the coverage gap, they would have an incentive to go to work and they wouldn’t lose their health insurance,” Dobson said. 

Ultimately, Dobson said, reversing the political gridlock in the country will help solve a lot of the major problems facing our economy, including labor shortages. 

“As I’ve traveled this state for two years running for this office and two years in this office, most people are hungry for a kind of politics that says, ‘Let’s set these divisive things aside, and let’s figure out how we can work together to solve the big problems that we have to solve.’”

Contact CityView reporters Evey Weisblat at eweisblat@cityviewnc.com and Char Morrison at cmorrison@cityviewnc.com.

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Fayetteville, Cumberland County, chamber of commerce, economy, business, schools