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Greenville is the county seat of Pitt County and principal city of the Greenville, North Carolina Metropolitan Statistical Area. Greenville is the health, entertainment, and educational hub of North Carolina's Inner Banks and in 2008 was listed as the Tenth Largest City in North Carolina. In January 2008, Greenville was named one of the nation’s “100 Best Communities for Young People” by the America’s Promise Alliance. In March 2008, Greenville was ranked in the top ten of the nation's "Best Places For Business And Careers" by Forbes Magazine. In 2004, Greenville was named Sportstown USA for the state of North Carolina by Sports Illustrated and the National Parks & Recreation Association. The city is also known as "BMX Pro Town USA", as it is home for many top professional BMX riders. The city's official population estimate as of July 1, 2007 is 75,482 residents. The Greenville Metro Area includes 172,473 people. It is the home of East Carolina University and Pitt County Memorial Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in North Carolina and employs over 6,000 people.
Greenville was founded in 1771 as "Martinsborough," after the Royal Governor Josiah Martin. In 1774 the town was moved to its present location on the south bank of the Tar River, three miles (5 km) west of its original site. In 1786, the name was changed to Greenesville in honor of General Nathanael Greene, the American Revolutionary War hero, and later shortened to Greenville.
During Greenville’s early years, the Tar River was a navigable waterway; and by the 1860’s there were several established riverboat lines transporting passengers and goods. Cotton was the leading agricultural crop, and Greenville became a major cotton export center. Before the turn of the century, however, tobacco surpassed cotton and became the leading money crop. Greenville became one of the state’s leading tobacco marketing and warehouse centers.
For over a century, Greenville was recognized only for being an important tobacco market and the home of a small state-supported college. By the mid 1960’s, East Carolina Teachers College had become the third largest state-supported college, and enrollment approached 8,000 students--twice the 1960 enrollment figure. In 1967, it became East Carolina University. The ECU Medical School admitted its first four-year class in 1977. At the turn of the century, enrollment at ECU topped the 18,000 mark, and now exceeds 25,000 students.
Greenville’s current economic development began in 1968 when Burroughs Wellcome, a major pharmaceutical research and manufacturing firm, chose Greenville as its home. The site is now owned by DSM Pharmaceuticals, which employs approximately 1,400 people. The city and Pitt County have also become home to many other major industries and businesses including Harper Brush, NACCO Materials Handling Group, Grady-White Boats, and ASMO.
In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd made landfall in eastern North Carolina, dropping nearly 17 inches (430 mm) of rain during the hours of its passage. Many residents weren’t aware of the flooding until the water came into their homes. Most localized flooding happened overnight, and the Tar River suffered the worst flooding, exceeding 500-year flood levels along its lower stretches.
Damages in Pitt County alone were estimated at $1.6 billion (1999 USD, $1.87 billion 2006 USD). Some residents in Greenville had to swim six feet underwater to reach the front doors of their homes and apartments. Due to the heavy flooding in downtown Greenville, the East Carolina Pirates were forced to relocate their football game against #9 Miami to N.C. State's Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh where they beat the Hurricanes 27-23.