Jim Whitehurst ’87: Supporting an Entryway to Knowledge
As a third-generation alumnus of NC State, Jim Whitehurst was a part of the Wolfpack community since he can remember, fondly recalling family trips from his hometown of Greenville, North Carolina, to Carter-Finley Stadium for Lou Holtz era football and Norm Sloan basketball games.
It’s that fondness, coupled with an interest in learning about business and agriculture, that led him to NC State. He graduated in 1987 from what is now the Poole College of Management with a B.S. in Economics and Business, along with a concentration in industrial engineering. Within a decade, Whitehurst became President and CEO of Coastal AgroBusiness, Inc., taking over and expanding the highly successful family owned and operated company started by his father and agricultural pioneer, James Clarence (J.C.) Whitehurst, Jr.
Under the younger Jim Whitehurst’s leadership, the company expanded and now conducts business in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. Whitehurst is also an industry leader, serving on the boards of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and Southern Crop Production Association.
Together with his family and employees, Whitehurst decided to name a space at the NC State University Plant Sciences Building, which will be home to the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative: a massive new research effort that brings together crop scientists, economists, engineers, data scientists, and experts from other disciplines to solve the world’s grandest challenges in agriculture.
The space, named in honor of the company his father started, will be called the Coastal AgroBusiness, Inc. Seminar Room Lobby.
We talked with Whitehurst to get more details behind their decision to support this future home of plant science innovation for North Carolina and the world.
Less than a decade after graduating from NC State, you took the reigns of a company that has grown exponentially. How did NC State contribute to your success?
For starters, NC State helped teach me to manage a business and see the world from different economic perspectives—not just agricultural economics but the bigger-picture macroeconomy. That was important for navigating our company through success over the years. NC State also gave me many opportunities to get practical knowledge in the agricultural field. I wasn’t an ag major, but I knew early on that I wanted to have a rewarding career there. The Crop Science Department and Extension often brought industry speakers to the McKimmon Center to talk about the latest products, technologies, and resources, like the North Carolina Ag Chem Manual, which had all the latest crop protection recommendations for North Carolina’s major crops; and I would sit in on many of them. These meetings and resources were a big deal to me and many others in the ag community.
You, along with your family and employees, decided to name a NC State University Plant Sciences Building space in your company’s honor. How and why did you come to that decision?
Our first experience giving to NC State as a family was when my father passed in 2013. Dad was a real pioneer in the ag industry going back to 1953, and we wanted to honor him with a scholarship. We got the J.C. Whitehurst, Jr. Agricultural Scholarship established, where Coastal AgroBusiness sponsors two students per year in his name. That started our involvement.
I learned about the building one day when I visited Dean Linton’s office. He was so passionate and excited about raising the funds for this building, which was going to support agricultural research from a lot of new interdisciplinary angles. I went back and talked with family members, and they thought it was a great fit. They recognized just how good the industry has been to us and were 100% supportive.
When (then N.C. PSI Launch Director) Steve Briggs came to pitch the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative and new building, my management team and I welcomed any employees who wanted to listen in and help decide. It was an exciting moment when employees filled up our conference room to help with our decision. We all agreed that if our company was going to support a major effort, this should be the one. Our suppliers, who we work with every day, were also donors; plus we would be supporting growers through new and innovative research. It was the greatest way to show unity in our industry for this effort, help growers succeed, and exercise our company’s employee-oriented philosophy.
Is there a special reason why you named the Seminar Room Lobby in Coastal AgroBusiness, Inc.’s honor?
We partly did it because of the lobby’s presence on the first floor. We thought what a great place to be; we’re getting in on a ground-floor opportunity. But there’s really more to it than that. The lobby is right outside the conference rooms, where many meetings are going to be held. It’s the entryway to where knowledge about some of the most important next-generation advances in agriculture are going to be shared. I can’t think of a better spot in the entire building to honor Coastal AgroBusiness’ dedication to making agriculture thrive in North Carolina and beyond.
The NC State University Plant Sciences Building will be home to some of the most advanced interdisciplinary agricultural research in the world. How do you think our agricultural industry will benefit from this?
The ag industry as a whole has to be more productive for our future population growth. We have to do it wisely with limited land and water resources. The real key to success will be the collaborations this building will foster between public and private companies and the university. This is where we come together to solve complex issues for the future–not just from the ag sciences perspective, but from a data sciences perspective, an engineering perspective, a regulatory perspective, and others. Researchers from across colleges and industries will tackle agricultural issues in ways that were never done before. The new perspectives, research and technologies coming from this building will pave the way for agriculture’s bright future. We’re all going to be very proud of this new facility. It’s going to put North Carolina on the world map.
What would you say to those who might still be interested in supporting the NC State University Plant Sciences Building?
I would say that it’s a unique opportunity for individuals and companies to get on board with a world-class research facility. It will mean a great deal for all those who want to get in and be a part of the next-generation initiative that will advance agriculture in North Carolina and beyond.
Join Jim Whitehurst and Coastal AgroBusiness, Inc. in supporting a world-class research facility that will advance North Carolina’s ag economy and quality of life for its citizens.
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.