What Companies Want

August 2018 Insight: What Companies Want resource header

By: Seth Palmer

As North Carolina pushes closer to the 10 million population mark, communities across the state are dealing with the challenges and opportunities of growth. From former mill towns adapting to new industries to the state’s urban centers vying to house the next headquarters of a multinational corporation, the horizon faces more opportunities than challenges. That is, of course, if we think proactively about the type of cities and towns we want to see in our state in the future.

In many instances, economic development activities at the local and state level are seen as zero-sum games. Only one community or area can win a particular project. But, given the strong connections between communities, does that mean that only that community will benefit? For projects of all sizes, it can be like a pebble thrown into a still pond that ripples outward, eventually covering the entire surface.

But how can communities plan for these types of projects and ensure that they are designed to meet today’s needs? How can it do this without making it incongruent with the future characteristics of the area? And what role can REALTORS® play in ensuring that communities are ready for these investments?


First among the qualities that anyone interested in a community, whether they are a business or individual, looks for is access. None of the other factors which make an area attractive matter if you can’t get there. In the modern world, that includes more than just roads and rails, but also access to international flights and innovative people-moving technologies. Here is a real-world example: as companies like Apple or Amazon target the Research Triangle area, the need for additional transcontinental and international flights at Raleigh-Durham International Airport rises. With these companies’ operations based on the West Coast, as well as internationally, it’s necessary (or at least good) to have direct flights to locations like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Brussels, and Beijing just to name a few. Many of these flights already exist, but others would require significant time and effort by local economic developers. While getting people from across the country and world, but how are they going to get around town once they are here.

At the same time that innovations are being made on the airline front, there are also significant opportunities to improve technologies and move people within and between cities. Areas like Charlotte have brought light rail platforms to their cities, moving citizens and visitors alike along intra-city rail lines. This nuanced transportation platform is offered in many urban areas across the country and world but is not without its own challenges. Other communities have considered different options like bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and other express buses, all focused on moving people from point A to point B in a more expedient and efficient way. A great example of this was the 2016 Wake Transit Project, a ballot initiative focused on providing additional sales tax revenue to support future transit improvements. The Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS® advocated this proposal and received financial support from both the NC REALTORS® and NAR Issues Mobilization Committees.

While the mode of transportation may change in the future (#flyingcars?), the challenges posed by population growth on infrastructure still remain. Economic development activities will only add to the burden and companies will have to discuss how the existing system will work (or not) before breaking ground on a project.


Throughout the state, the need for housing is on the rise across the majority of price points. The lack of available inventory is under the most pressure below the median sales price, further limiting the access to housing for workforce participants like blue collar and service industry staff who support the very industries who are being recruited. Inventory issues, compounded with affordability challenges, place a significant burden on these areas especially as economic recruitment efforts move forward. It is important that a potential company knows how much housing is or could be available so that they can effectively structure their workforce projections. Too little housing may mean a reduction in projections for employment or another area rising higher on the consideration list.

Communities across North Carolina are each dealing with this in different ways. Former mill towns, still recovering from the economic downturn, have housing stock, but not enough to meet the needs of current buyers. For example, communities in Burke County have new economic opportunities from projects like the western campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Math and future utilization of the former Broughton Hospital, but face challenges from the available housing stock. To combat these challenges, county and municipal leaders joined with the business community and the Burke County Association of REALTORS® to develop a study understanding the area’s housing needs and opportunities. Supported by a Housing Opportunity grant from the National Association of REALTORS®, this study looks to provide actionable insight for community leaders as they work to combat access issues.

While we all know that the biggest cure-all for housing challenges is more housing, it is important that communities think strategically about the types of housing options and if they will meet the needs of their current and future workforce. This is a key area for REALTORS® to be involved in, as you are the experts on which properties are best suited for the marketplace and how to best attract buyers.


Regulations addressing how land can be used to both support residential and commercial use of properties are a regular topic of discussion at the municipal and county level. Some areas have modified their Unified Development Ordinances to create new allowances for new types of business and other uses. In many cases, these allowances are made for positive reasons, but other times actions are taken which hinder growth or limit certain types of businesses or types of residential property.

These types of restrictions are too numerous to list in this one article, but they are important areas to monitor as they can have damaging effects on the opportunity for economic development.


For years before any formal structure was put in place, NC REALTORS® have been engaged in economic development activities across the state. From representing companies looking to acquire land or commercial space for projects to representing the new workforce as they make their new homes in the state, NC REALTORS® have been an important part of the process.

In 2016, thanks to a recognition from leadership, NC REALTORS® created its first economic development committee. Tasked with assisting in the growth of the association’s involvement in activities across the state, the committee deepens engagement with domestic and international partners and develops resources for REALTORS® and local associations.

One of those resources is the NC REALTORS® Economic Development and Real Estate Resource Guide which was unveiled last fall during NC REALTORS® annual convention in Asheville. The guide provides a listing of statewide resources and success stories, gleaned from relationships with statewide partners. You can find this in the Action Center on ncrealtors.org under the “Economic Development” section.


For good and bad reasons, it is unclear exactly what our next step should be. Economic development opportunities are put on the table each and every day that have variable timelines. From a family-owned business looking to add five more employees to a multi-national corporation looking to build their next headquarters to house thousands of employees, North Carolina remains an attractive choice for business.

Because of this, NC REALTORS® are in a unique position to provide valuable insight and support to the economic development activities by both government bodies and private entities. We will continue to develop resources to provide you up-to-date information on how you can be engaged. We will also share success stories of how others have played an important role in this process. Do you have a story of how you have supported an economic development project? Email Seth Palmer at spalmer@ncrealtors.org.

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