Spotlight down East

By Marion Blackburn

GREENVILLE, N.C. — In its first three months, the Eastern North Carolina Film Commission helped land a big-name Hollywood movie and it hopes to attract more.

Created last fall by the North Carolina Film Office, and operating as part of the Foundation of Renewal for Eastern North Carolina, the commission helped lure filming of “The Guardian,” starring Kevin Costner, to Elizabeth City.

A website, broader marketing and focused recruiting could bring more filmmakers to the rural East, says Phillip Horne, president of the foundation and director of the commission.

The Foundation of Renewal for Eastern North Carolina, FoR ENC, is based in Greenville and serves as the host agency for the film commission.

“This is a perfect example of what can emerge after a concerted regional effort is made to highlight the region’s many unique characteristics,” says Horne.

The North Carolina Film Office, which created the commission, is part of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

FoR ENC is a private nonprofit with assets of about $2.7 million that aims to spur economic, entrepreneurial and cultural growth by coordinating and raising start-up funding from private investors.

Since its inception in 2002 the foundation has invested more than $6 million in new businesses, in some cases receiving a percentage of revenues from those that are profitable.

The foundation also promotes tourism through the Inner Banks “IBX” trademarked logo.

The area, once known as the world’s tobacco capital, today faces the decline of its traditional farming and manufacturing industries, as well as associated businesses that operated to serve them.

FoR ENC hopes to help build an economy based on technology, arts, crafts, commercial film, real estate, tourism and other alternatives industries.

“It’s not just economic development,” Horne says. “It’s about opening a debate about public policy for the 21st century.”

Over the past four years, FoR ENC has supported several projects aimed at strengthening the region.

It raised about $350,000 in expansion capital for Our Heritage Preserved, a family business in Greene County that refurbishes the wood from old tobacco barns and sells it for use in homes.

In 2005, the company’s sales topped $500,000 and are expected to reach $900,000 this year.

The foundation helped raised $1 million in investment for Wavelength, a high-speed broadband Internet service in Greenville that provides connectivity to customers in four Southeastern states.

Wavelength’s revenue is expected to reach $4 million in 2006.

It also helped raise about $3 million in equity for Broad Street Software Group, an Edenton company that provides asset management software and projects revenues of $20 million this year.

Last year Broad Street was named one of the N.C. Small Businesses of the Year by Business North Carolina magazine.

The foundation helped developers find and purchase a 970-acre farm near Edenton which will become Sandy Point, a residential community with waterfront homes, a marina and public spaces.

Sandy Point will feature design by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and will be based on new urbanist principles that counter sprawl by encouraging walkable communities.

FoR ENC also operates the Virtual Incubator Platform for Eastern North Carolina, a website connecting businesses with clients, information and resources.

The site received 1.3 million visits in last year alone.

“Technology companies don’t have to be in Research Triangle Park or in Seattle,” says Frank Dooley, director of communications for the foundation.

“They can be in rural areas,” he says.  “It’s a growing trend. Eastern North Carolina towns provide amenities people in the knowledge industry seek.”

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