PITT COUNTY PRIDE: The area has been transforming for several decades, all while keeping its rural heritage in its new ventures.

Author:Blake, Kathy

Pitt County's roots are literally in the soil. Tobacco took hold in the late 1800s, leading to the construction of warehouses and processing plants. Other crops--sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn, cotton and soybeans--are plentiful most years. About 40% of Pitt County is farmland.

But urban growth has taken root as well. The population of Greenville, the county seat, has risen from 60,476 in 2000 to 93,137 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. East Carolina University, the state's fourth-largest university, boasts an enrollment of 28,962 and is home to the Brody School of Medicine, ranked first in the state and second nationally for the percentage of graduates in family medicine. Greenville-based Vidant Health's string of eight hospitals and other medical practices serve 29 counties. And Pitt's nine towns and unincorporated communities are growing and attracting major industries and manufacturing.

"We have great assets, and we have to figure out how to use all [of them]. We have to keep a strategic focus," says Kelly Andrews, associate director of marketing and recruitment for the Pitt County Development Commission. "We have to have talent retention and attractions to keep our ECU students here [and] make sure they have the opportunity to stay if they choose. When we have expansions in our industries, we need great talent. And that means expectations of things to do, like music and arts and culture and opportunities to be part of the community."

Part of that retention begins with introducing young students to future possibilities. The county launched its Grow Local program in March for middle and high school students to visit county businesses and explore job fields. More than 2,000 kids signed up. Meanwhile, RAMP East is an emerging source for job seekers in advanced manufacturing.

Greenville has also joined the wave of unrestrained work environments with a modernized coworking space called Nucleus Uptown, which opened in August as a spot where freelancers, entrepreneurs, startups and the like can share an amenity-filled building.

And a new, nonprofit food commercialization center in the town of Ayden marries Pitt County's agricultural history with...

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