UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

Vision and Investment in Eastern North Carolina

June 11, 2012 By Jessica Thomas

Andrea Gourdine, MBA 2012

The fifth in a series of  reflections on UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Sustainability Immersion, our capstone experiential learning course where graduating MBAs work to solve real-world business challenges in Eastern North Carolina and East Africa.

Andrea Gourdine (left) and Nora Petito in Rocky Mount, NC

Mr. Ferrel Guillroy talked to us about the importance of rural economic development and how to bring civic leadership together in ENC to provide amenities to attract young professionals and also develop entrepreneurs in the region.  Mr. Philip Horne discussed the forms of capital needed to transform and help ENC to be a more sustainable economy:


Dr. Jim Johnson shared his views on ENC and how the region suffers from both moral and material poverty.  Despite the moral and material poverty the region faces, ENC has the potential to turn around – the aging population is growing in the region and many young people are moving back home to ENC to take care of their families.  This is a step in the right direction in terms of getting the bright, young professionals back to their hometowns in ENC.  The next steps are how businesses and organizations keep young people in ENC, and get people to invest in their community.   Thomas Stith discussed the Twin County Business Growth Initiative which focuses on Edgecombe and Nash counties in ENC and the importance of existing businesses coming together to retain and help the creation of new businesses in the respective areas.  After this discussion I had a better idea of what ENC was like in the past and the future of the region.

When we took the tour of downtown Rocky Mount I was very delighted to hear of and know about how much faith, pride and financial backing people were putting into the community with the hopes of future growth and prosperity.  As we were walking around downtown Rocky Mount several business owners noticed our group (it’s very hard not to notice a pack of 12 students walking around taking pictures of everything), and came outside to say hello.  We walked by this one gorgeous building and a gentleman, Pastor Garland Jones, came outside and asked who we were and why we were in Rocky Mount.  After talking with Pastor Jones about our research on economic development in the city he invited us in and shared his background and why he decided to invest in Rocky Mount.  He shared his vision of Rocky Mount – one of opportunity and growth.  He believes Rocky Mount will be a desirable place for young people to own property, bring new businesses and make an impact.  Pastor Jones started a school within his church.   This school teaches young men and women about construction, real estate and the importance of investing in the community.  I got very excited when I found out about this school as one of my future personal goals is to open up a community center that teaches at-risk youth the importance of real estate/community development and giving back to their local communities.  After speaking with Pastor Jones and seeing what he has done in downtown Rocky Mount I knew I needed to actively pursue this goal.  In order to show and prove you want to be a part of a community’s growth and renaissance you need to make a financial commitment to prove you are in it for the long-haul.   It is one thing to say you believe in the redevelopment of a region, but one of the biggest impacts one can make is to invest capital to spur this growth.  Pastor Jones showed and described the financial commitments he has made in downtown Rocky Mount including the church, vocational school and an additional property across the street (future use is to be determined).  His vision and action is a prime example of Mr. Horne’s discussion of the various types of capital needed to transform ENC into more sustainable community.

The economic redevelopment in ENC is a great example of the type of work I want to get involved in the future and I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn about and experience Rocky Mount.  It was a fun trip and I am excited to keep in touch with Pastor Jones and see the continued progress of downtown.