Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for PTRC

I was the consultant and principal author of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (NC – 12 counties, 1.6 million population)

Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

Final Report – Adopted February 19, 2014

project logoTriad Tomorrow, the Piedmont Triad Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), serves as the foundational economic development element of our region’s sustainable communities planning effort, Piedmont Together. The CEDS is designed to help stakeholders form partnerships to leverage existing resources that will revitalize the communities of our region. Building on existing regional and local economic development plans, Triad Tomorrow strategies focus on supporting collaboration among local and regional stakeholders within the economic development community, private industry, educational institutions, local government, foundations and the private sector. The CEDS is a responsive and flexible five-year strategic economic development plan, designed to be easily adjusted to meet the changing needs of communities throughout the region.

The Piedmont Triad Regional Council undertook development of Triad Tomorrow as part of the statewide NC Tomorrow Initiative, which aims to create a more uniform, coordinated approach to economic development planning across our state. In this initiative, led by the North Carolina Association of Regional Councils, regional CEDS are developed by each of the 16 regional councils across the state, with the ultimate goal of combining them to create a statewide strategic plan. This CEDS will benefit communities in our region in three important ways:

  • The CEDS is to be combined with those of the other regional councils across the state, and then submitted to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) for approval. Upon approval, organizations in our region will be eligible to compete for assistance under EDA’s public works program, economic adjustment program, and many of its planning programs.
  • The CEDS highlights key priorities on which the region can work together to achieve significant results. By marshaling resources and fostering collaboration, local communities and regional organizations can make progress in these critical areas.
  • The CEDS identifies important regional interests. Communities seeking to advance projects in these identified areas can use the CEDS to demonstrate that their projects are not just of local concern, but support broader regional interests.

Triad Tomorrow outlines the region’s four priority economic development focus areas:

  1. Competitive Advantage & Leverage – Sectors of the Piedmont Triad’s regional economy vital to our economic mix which are growing or emerging, and/or unique to the region. These include market clusters, entrepreneurship support systems and our quality of life. The primary goal related to competitive advantage and leverage is to build on and improve the economic sectors that are authentic to the Piedmont Triad region.
  2. Regional Infrastructure – Fixed assets of the region including transportation, utilities, support systems, broadband and the natural environment. The primary goal related to infrastructure is to build on and improve the fixed assets of the region.
  3. Vibrant Communities – The characteristics of communities with a high quality of life, including local leadership, housing stock, and community amenities. The primary goal related to vibrant communities is to provide resources that support a high quality of life in the region.
  4. Talent – The human assets of the region, including our workforce, education and healthcare systems and access to capital. The primary goal related to talent is to invest in the region’s human assets and support systems.

The Last Days of the Regional Economic Development Partnerships

My original article about the decline in the NC regional economic development partnerships.



On May 12th, an announcement came out of Asheville that five western North Carolina counties were banding together to create a new economic development entity. Called groWNC, the new organization is “designed to get the region thinking collectively about ways to develop the economy with a focus on sustainability.”  According to the article in the Smoky Mountain News, the group will focus on seven core areas: jobs and economic development; housing; natural resources; cultural resources; energy; land use; transportation; and health and wellness.

Without casting aspersions toward the AdvantageWest Economic Development Group (the state-designated economic development regional partnership), the five counties cited a different set of economic development and long-term planning needs.  According to the article: “Each of the (seven) committees has drafted a list of goals that it hopes to work toward that will promote growth and more inter-connectivity between the counties, rather than each county taking its own path.”

Last month, Montgomery County articulated a much more explicit message as talks were held in committee in the North Carolina legislature for the county to leave the Piedmont Triad Partnership and become funded individually by the state.  In very direct terms, Montgomery County leaders expressed the fact that they cannot point to a single economic development project in their county that emanated from the Piedmont Triad Partnership – ever. In a nod to their true geographic focus, the Piedmont Triad Partnership supports the rural county’s exit.

Since then, elected officials from Surry County have expressed the same sentiment and asked to be removed from the Partnership and also retain their representative funding.

This all may seem sudden, but it comes as no surprise. Two years ago in a column I wrote for the News – Record, I openly questioned that if the Piedmont Triad Partnership were to go away, who would miss it(?).  Even with good intentions, there are a variety of factors that make it difficult for the organization – or many of their sister partnerships – to make a substantial difference in the economic development landscape.

The first factor is related to the very nature of arbitrarily putting together “regional partnerships” of unrelated counties for any reason – in this case, the seven regional economic development partnerships.  Contrary to the beliefs of those who promote regionalism at every turn, regionalism doesn’t work in every case on every issue.  It certainly hasn’t in economic development.  The preponderance of evidence shows that cities are the principal drivers of any regional economy; the Piedmont Triad Partnership is tacitly acknowledging that by supporting rural Montgomery County’s exit.

The current PTP Board of Directors’ focus is now squarely on the urban area of the Partnership footprint – particularly the area that spans the I – 40 corridor from Alamance through Guilford and into Forsyth County. Neither Montgomery County nor Surry County fit in the Piedmont Triad Partnership economic development vision and both the counties and the PTP Board know that. At some level, all economic development is local – especially with the arcane tax laws currently on the books. Rather than not being included and feeling ignored, both counties are (at some level) opting out.

The second factor is that despite purporting to be the lead economic development agency for the Triad, the Piedmont Triad Partnership has not been in the economic development project role since its inception. The organization would occasionally participate in projects that, for instance, were in neutral territory like the Piedmont Triad international Airport property and the Skybus project. But principally, the organization had for years been an umbrella marketing organization for its member counties. In that role it had some reasonable successes, but the wide disparity between the urban center and the rural periphery ultimately made for an unworkable marketing message and much of the marketing has been returned to the counties’ ED operations.  Not long ago, High Point and Greensboro banded to create their paired marketing message independent of PTP.

The third factor is very simple: every member county in the Piedmont Triad Partnership (except currently, Caswell and only by proxy, Guilford), has its own substantial economic development organization and staff. All the cities and many of the towns have economic development staff as well. There just wasn’t a need for the duplication of economic development efforts that the Piedmont Triad Partnership brought to the table.

The fourth factor is a current trend and is completely out of the control or critical assessment of the Piedmont Triad Partnership. The economy just stinks. There is nothing they – nor anyone else – could have done about that; the Triad was just hit worse than other areas the country because of the nature of the job requirements and job losses in its legacy industries of textiles, apparel, tobacco and furniture. When times get tough, it seems everybody points a finger finding someone to blame. This case is no different: projects didn’t come to many areas of the Triad during good times and when times get tough elected officials and business leaders – in their frustration – look for reasons for their current situation and find a scapegoat. In that regard, the Piedmont Triad Partnership is low-hanging fruit. This very thing happens to quality staff in slow local economies and it will certainly happen within the loose connectivity with the regional partnership.



The function of economic development assistance from state or regional organizations will undergo significant transformation in the years to come.  The state rightly prefers to locate more opportunities in rural areas to mitigate poverty in high unemployment counties.  Regional partnerships can’t (or shouldn’t) play favorites among their member jurisdictions for economic project siting.  In their world, where jobs go isn’t site specific and doesn’t matter.  Counties don’t see it that way.  New economic development projects are their first line of sight for property tax revenue increases.  In their minds, with property taxes meaning so much to those counties, location matters because – location matters. 

Aside from the Piedmont Triad Partnership, the other six economic development partnerships have at least one major city at its core – with the exception of the 16-county Northeast Commission (covering the remote area in the northeastern part of the state) and the vast area of western North Carolina west of Gastonia and Asheville where 23 of the state’s 100 counties are regionally grouped into the AdvantageWest Economic Development Group.  Regional association and state assistance for the far western counties of North Carolina and the impoverished northeastern corner (perhaps adding rural counties to the west and south of the current Northeast Commission where there are no cities to draw from) makes sense.  Otherwise, there is ample evidence from the examples of self-association and partnership withdrawal that North Carolina’s regional partnership paradigm needs a complete overhaul, major reassessment or reduction to the two non-city affiliated areas of greatest need.


PART 2:  The Next Steps for North Carolina’s Economic Development Partnerships


*Rob Bencini (MBA, CEcD) is an Economic Futurist providing critical insight for business and government.  He may be reached at or








System of Regional Partnerships Needs a Paradigm Shift

My follow-up article from the one two years earlier. This one outlines the ineffectiveness of the regional economic development partnerships in North Carolina and questions whether they have a future. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)


August 4, 2012

Commitment to Green Initiatives Lagging in Triad

My article highlighting the American Business Journal’s report that the Triad market had the lowest level of acceptance of green activities of any metro in America. The area can do better.


April 20, 2010

Top Leaders Just Don’t Seem to Buy the Concept

My article questioning the efficacy of the Piedmont Triad Partnership and the insistence on pursuing the “Piedmont Triad” moniker over that of Greensboro as a branding effort.


August 23, 2010

Business Opportunity Stays Even if Funding Goes


February 13, 2010

My published comments about aiming economic development efforts at higher paying jobs and industries rather than easy to identify low-wage jobs.