Forward march: Moore County's recently unveiled strategic development plan aims to improve its standing by leveraging its economic strengths, including tourism and a military presence.

Author:Wood, Suzanne

Golfers know all about Moore County. Its nearly 40 courses, including world famous Pinehurst No. 2, considered by many to be legendary designer Donald Ross' masterpiece, have earned this corner of the Sandhills the title "Home of American golf?' Add in nearby outdoor recreation, fine dining, craft brewing and shopping, and it's easy to see why visitors spent $468.9 million here in 2016. Moore ranks 11th in visitor spending among the state's 100 counties, says Caleb Miles, president and CEO of Pinehurst-based Convention & Visitors Bureau Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen Area of North Carolina.

Tourism is a pillar of Moore's economy. The industry employed more than 5,100 residents in 2016, according to Raleigh-based N.C. Department of Commerce's Labor and Economic Analysis Division. Only its health care industry employed more--nearly 8,900--that year. But as much fun as it is to play here, there is work to be done, too.

Moore County is home to manufacturers, family neighborhoods, good schools and high-quality health care. Local leaders want to give them a bigger role in defining the county while diversifying its tax base and encouraging prosperity, which is concentrated around the tourism hubs of Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen. It's a different story in the northern portions of the county, where pockets of poverty intermingle with small towns.

Charles Hayes, managing partner of Sanford-based Hayes Group Consulting LLC and former Moore County economic developer, took note of that dichotomy and other challenges. "There is a lack of consensus in direction. Northern Moore [County] needs more defined possibilities, and southern Moore is facing challenges with growth, with how to sustain its character and the influx of the military. These are some of the major issues and challenges for planning."

In order to meet those challenges, Pinehurst-based economic-development agency Moore County Partners in Progress commissioned Hayes to spearhead Moore's first strategic economic-development plan. Its recommendations were crafted from a survey of 1,000 residents, 80 personal interviews and dozens of focus groups. They were released in December and called for expanding the health care sector, leveraging Fort Bragg's proximity and rejuvenating manufacturing.

Pat Corso, Partners in Progress' executive director, says the strategic plan's aim is to ensure all communities have access to economic opportunities and the jobs they provide. He says that will be done by revitalizing and developing assets for tourism and industry.

Pinehurst-based FirstHealth of the Carolinas Inc., which operates a 402-bed hospital in its hometown, was Moore County's largest employer as of the second quarter of 2017. It and the rest of the county's health care industry employed about 26% of the workforce in 2016, according to Commerces LEAD. Corso says that the...

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