The Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation’s mission and focus is to enhance job growth by attracting new industries and by helping existing industries expand. Those efforts yield fruit by strengthening the local economy, which — in addition to providing jobs that keep the economic engine turning — alleviates pressure on individual taxpayers by diversifying the tax base.
Today, we speak with the EDC’s president and CEO, Robert Van Geons, about the work he and his team do.
Van Geons has led the EDC since 2017. That same year, he was named one of the "Top 50 Economic Developers in North America" by Consultant Connect, and in the years since, he’s announced more than $500 million in new investment and 4,500 jobs in Cumberland County with domestic and international companies.
Prior to moving to Fayetteville, he led Rowan County's EDC. He’s worked in economic development and land use management in Connecticut and North Carolina and has been directly involved in the creation and preservation of over 9,000 jobs and $2.7 billion of announced investment.
CITYVIEW: Let’s start with a major aspect of the focus of your office, which is job growth. We know you can’t talk specifically about the businesses and industries considering Fayetteville or Cumberland County as a future home, but what can you say about the activity you’re seeing — and about prospects for them locating here?
ROBERT VAN GEONS: Our primary focus is to help local companies grow and to bring new jobs to Fayetteville and Cumberland County. With regards to interest, we’ve had a record-setting year, with more projects and visits than ever before. We’ve generated 107 new projects and have had 51 company visits since January. We are optimistic that a number of these will translate into announcements soon.
The size, scope and country of origin for these projects are extremely diverse. We are currently working with companies from eight different countries, representing a wide range of industry sectors including energy storage, food production, aerospace components, 3D printed materials and distribution.
You and your team also work to help existing industries expand. New business tends to grab headlines, but expansion is also good for the county’s tax base and workforce. What, in the way of expansion, is new and noteworthy?
Beyond recognizing the important role they play in our local economy, our existing industry partners help us connect with new opportunities and set the stage for future success. We work hand in hand with the businesses in our community to support them. The Plant Manager’s Association and Transportation & Logistics Committee are two specific groups we facilitate here at FCEDC to make sure that our major area employees are informed and connected in the community.
I think one great example of this work is the joint venture recently announced by Fayetteville-based Wahconah Partners and Israeli manufacturer Hagor. Our EVP Rob Patton facilitated this connection, which provides an expansion catalyst for a local company, while also attracting new international investment. From marketing to applied innovation, to workforce development, it all starts with existing industry.
For economic developers like yourself, “inventory” is a word you sometimes use when promoting what the county has to offer. When it comes to building and land inventory for potential expansion and development, how does Cumberland compare to the rest of North Carolina?
Fayetteville, Cumberland County and its municipalities have made a concentrated effort to increase the number of quality industrial sites and buildings. Over the past few years, we’ve added more than 2 million square feet of new industrial space and 1,500 acres of shovel-ready sites. Recently, C&S Commercial/Windsor Development and SkyRem each completed new shell buildings. They’re private sector funded, and we are actively marketing these buildings, which are now ready for occupancy.
FCEDC is also working to create an over 1,000 acre megasite, one of five new sites being considered for inclusion in the state of North Carolina’s new initiative. Efforts like this require extensive infrastructure and utility planning.
Workforce is also a part of what you promote. How does Fort Liberty and its active duty and civilian workforce enhance your ability to sell the region?
On average, 7,000 soldiers transition out of active duty each year at Fort Liberty. This unique talent pipeline is unparalleled anywhere else in the country. Additionally, active-duty soldiers relocating to the area often have families, and military spouses make up a vital part of the workforce here in Cumberland County. FTCC and FSU have an array of programs designed specifically to assist transitioning and separated service members. This trained, experienced and dependable workforce is an incredible asset.
Is the stand-alone geographic nature of the Fayetteville market — even though it’s the sixth largest city in the state, and contains Fort Liberty — an asset or liability? Why?
Fayetteville is not just the sixth largest city in the state; it’s also the sixth largest city in the Carolinas as a whole. We’re extremely accessible to Interstate 95, Interstate 40, Highway 421 and Highway 87, a regional airport, an international airport (Raleigh-Durham), multiple rail lines and the Port of Wilmington, whose container terminal was ranked as the most productive port in North America in 2022. We’ve got three high-performing colleges located in Fayetteville, producing world-class talent and academic excellence.
Fayetteville is part of the Carolina Core, which is an over 120-mile stretch of central N.C., encompassing the area west of Winston-Salem, through High Point, Greensboro, Asheboro, Sanford and Fayetteville. Our geographic location is a tremendous asset.
The EDC is a part of the “Can Do Carolina” project. What can you share about that since its recent launch?
We are a proud collaborative partner in the Can Do Carolina project and promote it extensively. You can see the Can Do branding in our logo, the city’s, the county’s, the chamber and Cool Spring logos. Examples are found above the stage at Festival Park, on FAST buses, at the airport, and outside the city and county administration buildings. Additionally, a number of private sector businesses have also incorporated the brand. We look forward to working with the new CVB director to reinvigorate and expand the collaborative partnership.
Two major projects that you’ve been involved in are the Amazon delivery center and the U.S. Postal Service’s distribution center. What updates can you share about those?
We have worked closely with Amazon on both their Last Mile Fulfillment Center on Dunn Road and the Distribution Center in the Military Business Park. Construction on the Distribution Center was completed in February 2023. Amazon is committed to opening the facility and creating the 500 jobs they announced. The Fulfillment Center is performing well, and along with the adjacent FedEx Facility, supporting hundreds of jobs. Across the street, NVR’s new manufacturing facility is almost complete, anchoring a new industrial park.
Along Corporation Drive, we have worked closely with the developers to develop new projects, with two spec buildings completed and more planned in the future. However, we did not directly play a role in their recruitment of the Postal Service as a tenant.
Can you speak about any updates to the Fayetteville Regional Airport?
FCEDC is a passionate advocate for our airport, assisting with grants for infrastructure, marketing support, and efforts to recruit additional commercial flights. We believe that FAY is an important economic engine and poised for significant growth in the near future.
Tell us more about your staff and their main responsibilities …
Our small team of six employees covers everything including recruitment, existing industry support, marketing, communications, research, grants, finance and administration. We also manage the CORE Innovation Center, providing offices and meeting space for early-stage defense and international companies.
I serve as the president and CEO and am a board member of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and am actively involved in similar organizations. Retired Colonel Rob Patton is our executive vice president, bringing decades of experience and contacts in defense-related industries. Fayetteville native Jennifer McFadyen Hammond joined the team in September as the marketing and community engagement director, and Jasmin Ellis and Darla Carnett round out our team in finance and administration respectively.
Currently, we are searching for a new director of existing industry and actively taking applications. We try to be good stewards of the private and public sector funding we receive. Without the financial support of the City of Fayetteville and Cumberland County, these job-creating and tax revenue-generating projects would not be possible.
About the organization: the FCEDC is a 501c6 public-private partnership working daily to identify and prepare sites and buildings for expedited development, as well as promoting the community’s best assets for industry decision-makers, site-selectors, and developers. Find out more at https://fcedc.com/.
Contact Bill Horner III at email@example.com.