PFI intern shares tales of Beaufort County businesses

Behind every successful business venture there’s a story.

Rising East Carolina University junior Hunter Whittington spent his summer telling those stories as an SECU Public Fellows Intern with the Beaufort County Economic Development (BCED) Office.

A double major in political science and economics, Whittington wouldn’t say he’s a natural storyteller. However, his unique way with words, combined with the BCED staff’s innate number-crunching skills, allowed him to tackle economic development in a new way.

“I come from a background of humanities writing,” Whittington said. “It’s not flowery, but it definitely has a more descriptive style than say engineering technical writing. So, I was able to give the industries in Beaufort County a story; something people want to read and create an emotional connection to. When you’re trying to bring new businesses to a region many think is ‘dying,’ you have to share the success stories of those that are thriving.”

For Whittington, his time in Beaufort County was all about getting hands-on experiences with industries in eastern North Carolina.

“I’ve worked in past internships that focused on the political side of my major, but I wanted more of a direct experience in economics,” Whittington said. “Beaufort County offered a compelling solution.

“Working in eastern North Carolina has been an eye-opening experience,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much potential is out here and how much growth can be achieved. If you’re a student just driving through on your way to Greenville, there’s no way to recognize all of the amazing opportunities here. While I didn’t start off as someone yelling from the rooftops, ‘Hey, I want to work in Beaufort County!’ it’s now one of those things I’ve grown to appreciate and be inspired by.”

Whittington’s duties as an intern with the Beaufort County Economic Development Office included interviewing businesses in the region and sharing their needs with the community.

Along with interviewing Beaufort County businesses and sharing their stories through traditional media outlets and social media channels, Whittington traveled the area and attended county government meetings. He said the experience has gone a long way in opening his eyes to the importance of local government.

“Local government baffled me for years,” Whittington said. “You hear about what happens at the federal and state levels, but I always asked myself, ‘How does government work locally?’

“I always heard that local elections were the most important elections to take part in, but I didn’t understand until I got here that much of what goes on in your daily life – whether it’s a new zoning requirement or your downtown’s redevelopment – happens at the local level,” he said. “It was a big realization.”

Beaufort County Economic Development Director Martyn Johnson said the office’s first experience with the PFI program has been a positive one for both his organization and for Whittington.

“We’re losing our young people in eastern North Carolina,” Martin said. “They leave here, go off to college and, unfortunately, never come back. We need to keep them here because we have industries and organizations that need them. Historically, our region has lost people, but if we let students know that we have good paying jobs that use the advanced manufacturing and technical expertise their learning in the classroom, we can begin to change that trend.”

After working in Beaufort County for a few months, Whittington can see a potential paradigm shift coming.

“Industries are on the rise in eastern North Carolina,” he said. “Businesses are showing a growing willingness to partner with county and education institutions to creative skill-learning programs. If businesses continue to set clear goals in partnership with county offices and organizations like the BCED, there’s no reason this region can’t bounce back.”

While he sees a bright future for eastern North Carolina, Whittington admits he still has a lot of learning to do before he can finish writing his own story.

“I think the biggest thing I’ll take away from this internship is that I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “My opinion may not always be right; what I want isn’t always the only option. Starting out as an intern was very hard for me. I’ve had to learn to sit back, listen to others and take feedback. It’s been humbling at times, but it’s a very important lesson to learn.”