Johnston County Shoots For The Stars But Falls Short
Typically in economic development, confidentiality and discretion rule the site selection process as multi-million dollar projects come with cryptic code names that keep company identifies anonymous. Frequently, communities competing for these investments and new jobs never know who is actually at the end of the line until they make it to the top three or four finalists.
But there are occasionally exceptions to the rule. In 2017, Amazon publicly announced its search for a city to build a $5 billion corporate headquarters that would employ 50,000 workers. Hundreds of U.S. cities leapt at the chance to land “HQ2” with glossy videos and mounds of data they hoped would win the Internet retail giant.
Johnston County, despite being the third most populous county in the Triangle Region, has rarely been invited to compete for a major headquarters, which tend to gravitate toward traditional “urban core” metro areas. That changed this summer when the County met the requirements to compete for the U.S. Space Command Headquarters. On July 24, the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Basing Office notified Johnston County’s Office of Economic Development that it had met initial criteria screening criteria and would be moving forward for further consideration. Chris Johnson, director of the Economic Development Office, spent the following five weeks compiling detailed information in response to the Pentagon’s exhaustive questionnaire about various sites around Johnston County.
“Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, a minister and author of The Power of Positive Thinking, said: ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’,” Johnson says. “When my office received the call from the state indicating that Johnston County checked all the boxes for the U.S. Space Command Headquarters, I knew this would be a golden opportunity to compete for an incredible project while also again showcasing our communities as a very desirable, pro-business destination for companies looking to relocate. Unfortunately, we received word on Thursday afternoon we didn’t make it to the next round.”
The U.S. Space Command is part of the U.S. Space Force, which was created last December through the National Defense Authorization Act as the space warfare branch of the armed forces. The Command’s provisional headquarters is currently in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Pentagon announced search criteria on May 15. Those that did make it include: Colorado Springs, Colorado; Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Patrick AFB in Brevard County, Florida; Offutt AFB in Bellevue, Nebraska; Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama; and Joint Base San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas. Its final decision is expected in January 2021.
Chris Johnson says the County would have been a natural fit for the command due to its skilled workforce, growing population, close proximity to large military bases in Goldsboro and Fayetteville, and appealing quality of life. “We’re 800 miles south of Portland, Maine and 800 miles north of Miami. Johnston County is literally the epicenter of the East Coast, so it is natural for us to claim to be the epicenter of space and the universe,” he says jokingly. Johnson says County officials understood from the beginning that the highly competitive, highly political project would be a long shot. “But we knew it would also be wonderful opportunity to display the numerous business amenities Johnston County has to offer,” he says.
The Johnston County Economic Development Office (JCEDO) facilitates value-added interaction between government, education and the private sector in encouraging and promoting job creation and economic investment in Johnston County. A unit of county government, JCEDO collaborates with local, regional and statewide partners and allies in providing confidential location assistance to businesses and technical support to the county’s 11 municipalities.