Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
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UNC’s Kenan Institute to launch $1.6 million eastern N.C. economic development initiative


Thomas Stith

The Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will launch a $1.6 million center to promote business growth and job creation in eastern North Carolina.

The Center for Strategic Economic Growth will be funded with a five-year, $642,949 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and $1 million in matching funds from the Kenan Institute.

EDA is funding centers in eight states through the University Center Economic Development Program, a partnership to leverage university assets to promote American innovation and strengthen regional economic ecosystems. In North Carolina, Fayetteville State University and Western Carolina University in Cullowhee also received grants.

“Our goal is to extend the reach and impact of an extensive network of partners already working in this area to create a vibrant economic development ecosystem for eastern North Carolina,” said Thomas Stith, the institute’s program director for economic development, who will direct the center. The Kenan Institute, part of Kenan-Flagler Business School, offers consulting services, research and education programs for companies and communities that promote economic development, entrepreneurship and global competitiveness.

“We know that existing businesses, particularly high-growth companies, are the significant job creators in our communities,” Stith said. “We’ll be focusing a large part of our work on activities that help the region build capacity to support its existing high-growth businesses and entrepreneurial ventures.” 

Stith and his team will focus on the 18 counties in N.C.’s Eastern Plains Region: Bertie, Beaufort, Duplin, Edgecombe, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hertford, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, Northampton, Pitt, Warren, Washington, Wayne and Wilson. They will offer a range of strategic planning and consulting services, research and educational programs.  

The new center builds on the institute’s work in the region over the past four years and the needs identified by a roundtable of regional business, government, academic and nonprofit leaders that Stith convened a year ago to develop the EDA grant proposal.  

The Eastern Plains Region counties are among the state’s most economically distressed due largely to declines in tobacco and textile industries in recent decades. The new center will work through established economic development agencies and councils of government in the region to implement its programs and promote economic growth. 

“We are delighted to bring the resources of the University to this collaborative effort to help eastern North Carolina realize its economic potential,” Stith said. 

For more information, contact Stith at (919) 962-8444 or, or visit