Eastern North Carolina

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One interpretation of North Carolina's regions
North Carolina Eastern Region

Eastern North Carolina (sometimes abbreviated as ENC) is the region encompassing the eastern tier of North Carolina. It is known geographically as the state's Coastal Plain region. Primary subregions of Eastern North Carolina include the Lower Cape Fear (Wilmington Area), the Sandhills, the Inner Banks and the Outer Banks. It is composed of the 41 most eastern counties in the state. Large cities include Greenville, Jacksonville, and Wilmington. In 1993, the State Legislature established seven regional economic development organizations and three of these serve eastern North Carolina - Northeast North Carolina Commission (covering 16 counties), North Carolina East Alliance (representing 13 counties surrounding North Carolina's Global TransPark), and North Carolina's Southeast Commission (assisting 11 counties).

New transitions are being made in the geography of the economic sectors. Economic Development Commissions are transforming, such as North Carolina's Eastern Region Commission's transition into North Carolina East Alliance. Different EDC's have different ways to increase prosperity in the area. NCEA's first focus is to improve the talent pipeline to create a more comprehensive local workforce. Shoop, the Commissioner for Washington's EDC stated "In a private setting, they would be able to access different funds for additional economic projects or initiatives in the county."[1]

Located east of the Piedmont and west of the Atlantic Ocean, Eastern North Carolina contains very few major urban centers. Greenville is close to the region's geographic center. Fayetteville is the largest city in the region, followed by Wilmington and Greenville.


Eastern North Carolina is roughly made up of the 44 easternmost counties in North Carolina. Generally, the region denotes all of the state's counties on and east of Interstate 95 (also known as East Coast USA Main Street stretching from northern Maine to the southern tip of Florida). If defined by geological formations, eastern North Carolina comprises the 44 counties of the Inner and Outer Coastal Plains. In terms of economic similarities, the region includes 41 counties. The commonly accepted definition is all counties east of and crossed by Interstate 95, which is 41 counties. I-95 intersects with US64/264 at Wilson County and is in close proximity to I-40. This makes transportation throughout the region incredible along with easy access to the rest of the state and country. The region is further divisible into three geographic sections: the Southeast, Inner Banks and the Outer Banks.


During the colonial era of American History, the East was the dominant region of North Carolina in both government and commerce. Towns of early significance included Bath, Beaufort, Elizabeth City, Edenton, Kinston, Morehead City, New Bern, Tarboro, and Wilmington. Around the end of the eighteenth century, however, such dominance shifted to the Piedmont center of the state.


Four-year institutions

The region is dotted with universities. There are five public universities and seven private institutions in the region. The largest is East Carolina University, a Doctoral University with Higher Research Activity on the Carnegie scale. The four other public universities are Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The seven private institutions are: Barton College, Campbell University, Chowan University, Methodist University, University of Mount Olive, North Carolina Wesleyan College, and Mid-Atlantic Christian University.

Community colleges

The area is also served by 23 community colleges. The two-year institutes are: Beaufort County Community College, Bladen Community College, Brunswick Community College, Cape Fear Community College, Carteret Community College, College of the Albemarle, Coastal Carolina Community College, Craven Community College, Edgecombe Community College, Fayetteville Technical Community College, James Sprunt Community College, Johnston Community College, Lenoir Community College, Roanoke-Chowan Community College, Martin Community College, Nash Community College, Pamlico Community College, Pitt Community College, Sampson Community College, Sandhills Community College, Southeastern Community College, Wayne Community College, and Wilson Technical Community College.

Many community colleges hold programs to create a more able workforce in Eastern North Carolina. The different economic clusters, including but not limited to advanced manufacturing (aerospace, automotive and industrial machinery), life sciences (Biopharma and medical device research, development and manufacturing), value-added agriculture (food processing, forest products, etc.) and marine products (boat building) have prompted Community Colleges to offer associate degrees in related fields (e.g. Airframe/power plant maintenance, composite technology, engineering technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical manufacturing technology, machining and welding).


Eastern North Carolina is served by two main interstate highways and a number of U.S. routes.

Road Transportation

  • Interstate 95 is the rough western edge of Eastern North Carolina passing through Rocky Mount, Wilson, Fayetteville and Lumberton.
  • Interstate 40 serves the southeastern portion from Wayne County (Near Mt . Olive) to Wilmington in New Hanover County.
  • I-795 is the main highway between Wilson and Goldsboro.
  • U.S. 13 enters North Carolina close to the Drum Hill community. It proceeds through Greenville and terminates into I-95 in Fayetteville.
  • U.S. 17 enters North Carolina from Virginia beside the Dismal Swamp State Park. It continues through Washington, New Bern, and Wilmington and exits the state near Calabash onwards to South Carolina.
  • U.S. 64 enters Rocky Mount from Raleigh. It continues to the eastern terminus in Nags Head.
  • U.S. 70 enters the region at Selma. It continues through Goldsboro, Kinston, New Bern and Morehead City (deepwater port) on its way to the eastern terminus at the village of Atlantic. Just before reaching Atlantis, the highway connects with NC12 that leads to the Cedar Island/Okracoke Ferry that connects to the famous Outer Banks.
  • U.S. 74 begins in Wrightsville Beach. The route stays close to the South Carolina line and exits the region near Lumberton.
  • U.S. 76 runs concerant with U.S. 74 from Wrightsville Beach to Chadbourn. It exits the state near Fair Buff into South Carolina.
  • U.S. 117 is an offshoot of U.S. 17, beginning at I-95 in Wilson and terminating at the Port of Wilmington.
  • The eastern terminus of U.S. 158 is in Nags Head. It continues through Elizabeth City, then it exits the area, crossing I-95 close to Roanoke Rapids.
  • Jacksonville is the southern terminus of U.S. 258. It continues north through Kinston and Tarboro, exiting the state near Mill Neck.
  • The eastern terminus of U.S. 264 is at U.S. 64 at Manns Harbor. It continues south to Swan Quarter, even though it doesn't go through the town. It then goes west through Washington and bypasses Greenville. It leaves Eastern North Carolina at I-95 in Wilson.
  • US 301 closely parallels I-95 throughout North Carolina. It enters the state from South Carolina, crossing over I-95 near Rowland. It leaves the state near Pleasant Hill on its way to Virginia.
  • US 401 serves Harnett, Cumberland, Hoke, and Scotland counties.
  • US 421 enters the region in Harnett County and terminates at Carolina Beach.
  • US 701's northern terminus is in Four Oaks. It continues south through Newton Grove and Clinton and exits the state near Tabor City.

Over 60 motor freight carriers provide service to all parts of the nation.

FedEx, UPS, DHL and Emery have offices in all major communities.

The transportation within the region allows for easy access to anywhere in the entire United States of America. I-40 and I-95 are capable of this with close proximity to I-85 as well. Manufacturers can move their goods efficiently and families can travel with ease.

Much of the regions main highways have been designated as the Historic Albemarle Tour, which connects many historic sites in Eastern North Carolina.

Rail Transportation

CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the NC Railroad Company serve the industries within the region. The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak, is a train service for passengers. Amtrak passenger stations are located in Rocky Mount, Wilson and throughout North Carolina and the Eastern region

Air Transportation

Wilmington International Airport is in Eastern North Carolina along with RDU within a short driving distance. Raleigh-Durham International can be reached via i-40 (with i-440 or 540 being additional options). There are several ways to access Wilmington International easily when in the region, using i-40 or US-17.

There are also sixteen regional airports that serve general aviation in the Eastern region of North Carolina: Greenville, Jacksonville and New Bern provide commuter service to Charlotte, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

Global Transpark

The North Carolina Global TransPark (GTP) is a 2,500 acre, multi-modal industrial park offering unparalleled access to air, rail, highways, and North Carolina's two international ports. The GTP boasts a pro-business climate aimed at growing the aerospace, logistics, manufacturing, emergency services, defense contracting and supporting industries.[2]


There are deep-water bulk, break-bulk cargo and container facilities in ENC at Morehead City, NC and Wilmington, NC. A third comprehensive deep-water (Panamx-ready) port exist just north of the state line in Norfolk/Portsmouth, VA. All three ports also have RoRo (roll-on, roll-off) facilities to handle autos and military equipment.


The mainstays of the economy still reside in agriculture and defense sectors for most of the east, however it is changing. On the coast, marine trades (port activities and boat building), retirees, and tourism are the economic drivers. In North Carolina's Eastern Region, several industrial sectors are contributing to growth: aerospace, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing. Aerospace activity is spread throughout the region and employs roughly 12,000 workers: this sector is concentrated in Kinston (host of the Global TransPark that has attracted Spirit AeroSystems, CrateTech, and several logistics firms), Goldsboro (AAR Cargo & Mobility Systems), Havelock (Fleet Readiness Center East - a Navy MRO on board MCAS Cherry Point), Rocky Mount (Honeywell and EATON), and Wilson (Kidde Aerospace). Education (East Carolina University), health care (Vidant Health), and financial services are the major employers in the Greenville Metro Area, but the life science sector (R&D as well as manufacturing) is also a significant employer (Patheon, Metrics, Carolina Medical Products, Pioneer Surgical and CTMG). The life science sector also has a significant presence in Wilson (Novartis-Sandoz, Purdue Pharma, BD and Merck) and Rocky Mount (Hospira). In addition to aerospace, the advanced manufacturing sector is represented by automotive parts (Bridgestone/Firestone, ASMO, Uchiyama, Keihin - all Japanese companies - Cooper-Standard and AP Exhaust) and industrial machinery (Cummins Rocky Mount Engine, Hyster-Yale Materials Handling, Crown, Draka Elevator, Aylward) as well as other industries. An historically significant and still important industrial sector is boat building (Grady-White, Hatteras Yachts/Cabo Yachts, Jarrett Bay, Custom Steel Boats, and several others dot the landscape of the coastal plain).

Economic Clusters

Aerospace & Defense
Millions of dollars have been invested in aerospace development to make Eastern North Carolina the ideal destination for corporate expansion or relocation. The state already contains 160 aerospace companies and prompted the development of the Global TransPark to serve the industry. It is no surprise that this state is an ideal location for aerospace and defense development considering the military bases located within the area. The community colleges have worked with the aerospace industry to create two-year programs that are relevant to aerospace and defense (e.g. Air Frame & Power Plant, Composites, Advanced Machining and Welding).

Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics
In Eastern North Carolina, you can tap the full potential of one of America's top manufacturing states. There are no inventory or intangible taxes in addition to no sales tax on raw materials. Besides the reduction in manufacturing costs, Eastern NC is an optimal mid-east coast location. NC has the largest manufacturing workforce in the southeast and ninth in the US (with Unions <1%) with easy national and international distribution. In addition, the workers compensation and unemployment insurance rates are among the lowest in the nation. All of this in collaboration with a large quantity of the workforce possessing CNC machining skills. Regional logistics assets include multiple trucking companies with various capabilities (including tankers and reefers), freight forwarders, 3PLs, and transportation consultants, three rail providers, multiple ports and a multi- modal air/rail industrial park.

Life Sciences
ENC is part of an internationally acclaimed life sciences corridor, particularly the 13-county region covered by The NC East Alliance. It is adjacent to the Research Triangle with NC being recognized as a national leader in Research & Development and innovation. The continual growth can be attributed to the medical programs in the area (e.g. Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and ECU) alongside international firms and homegrown startups that has attracted biotech and pharmaceutical innovators as well as medical device manufacturers. The workforce is highly skilled due to local programs at community colleges and the acclaimed medical program at East Carolina University. A regional articulated life sciences ladder, developed with guidelines from the life sciences community, is in place. It includes associate degrees; BS programs in Biology, Biochemistry, Bioprocess Engineering and Industrial Technology, an MS in Biotechnology and a PhD in Microbiology.

Situated just east of Raleigh, North Carolina and the world famous Research Triangle, the BioEast Alliance is a five-county area that is emerging as a major life science region in its own right.

North Carolina is the third leading state in the U.S. in terms of the number of biotech firms and employees. Presently, the BioEast Alliance area employs about 5,000 of those workers and is home to major operations of life sciences firms such as Hospira, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, Patheon, Merck & Co., Fuji Silysia Chemical USA, Metrics, BD, Pioneer Surgical and other leading life science companies.

Value-Added Agriculture & Food
The Eastern Region is internationally recognized as a major agricultural production area. According to NC Department of Agriculture statistics, North Carolina ranks first nationally in the production of sweet potatoes, and second in hogs, pigs, and turkeys. The state ranks 3rd overall for cucumbers sold for pickles, trout sold, and poultry and egg products cash receipts.

Much of the state's production in hogs, turkeys and other poultry is centered in and around the Eastern Region. There are more than 160 facilities within the region involved in value-added agriculture and food manufacturing. Total employment in this cluster exceeds 20,000 people, or 5% of the total workforce.

Major food processing employers in the Region include many nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Mt. Olive Pickles, Carolina Turkeys, Smithfield, Butterball, The Cheesecake Factory, Flowers, and Hillshire (Sara Lee) Bakeries.

Many locales throughout the Region provide exceptional amounts of water and sewer capacity to accommodate large processing operations.

The NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has four research farms located within the Eastern Region (and others across the state) that can assist with research in a broad range of areas of interest to value-added agriculture businesses.

North Carolina State University (NCSU) also makes research capabilities available to companies through its Cooperative Extension Services, and also through the Seafood Laboratory located in Morehead City, which is a part of the NCSU Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST).


The local government of Eastern North Carolina is served by seven of the 17 North Carolina Councils of Government. They include the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments, Mid-Carolina Council of Governments, Lumber River Council of Governments, Cape Fear Council of Governments, Eastern Carolina Council of Governments, Mid-East Commission, and the Albemarle Commission.


Eastern North Carolina is by and large an impoverished area. Nearly 21 percent of people live in poverty in this region[citation needed]. Outsourcing of textile manufacturing jobs along with other manufacturing jobs has caused unemployment in the area to increase particularly in the northeastern area of the state. Many areas of Eastern North Carolina are experiencing little economic growth; however, areas such as Greenville (Pitt County) are growing rapidly due the location of East Carolina University and its associated medical facilities.


Eastern North Carolina is located in the coastal plain region of the eastern seaboard of the United States and has relatively flat land that is primarily used for farming. The Outer Banks and Inner Banks are comparable to the tidewater region of Virginia in terms of land. However, the barrier islands of the Outer Banks are highly rare.


Eastern North Carolina generally consists of 43 counties, which when combined form a total regional area of roughly 9,700 square miles (25000 square km). The counties commonly included in the region are as follows:

Cities and towns

Eastern North Carolina communities in the region include:

Over 50,000 in population

Fewer than 50,000 population


  1. http://articles.herald-mail.com/2002-12-30/news/25132636_1_edc-board-private-status-fort-ritchie
  2. http://www.ncgtp.com/

See also