Spirit of Rowan: Rowan — ‘It’s got everything going for it’
By Jessica Coates
Rowan County has the land. It has the job skills training programs. It has the culture.
Now, says county commissioners Chairman Greg Edds, “my message to you is that success will come.”
“I read from folks that are just critical, negative folks, ‘Nothing’s happening. There’s been no success.’ And … I don’t even know what to say to that. There’s a tremendous amount that has gone on and is going on,” Edds says.
In 2017, 19 retail stores, service businesses and restaurants opened in the county. As of February, four more retail stores and service businesses had opened.
“Most of it, we had nothing to do with,” Edds says. “These are entrepreneurs and risk-takers who are starting their own businesses.”
Economic Development Commission President Rod Crider and Scott Shelton, the group’s vice president of operations, say projects they have participated in have generated 238 new jobs.
“We’ve had years where we’ve had a lot more. We’ve had years where we’ve had less,” Shelton says. “But these were comprised of, I guess, five projects of varying sizes. They were all nice projects.”
The projects included expansions by FillTech, Boral Composites, R+L Carriers and Aldi.
Shelton says Aldi’s decision to expand its distribution center near East Spencer resulted in 100 new jobs — the largest contribution by a single company to the 238-job total.
Crider and Shelton say the total investment in the county from EDC projects last year was $45 million.
“I think the foundation that has been laid in the past couple of years by our community leaders, our elected officials — I think they’re going to start paying dividends here in the very near future,” Shelton says.
Crider, Shelton and Edds say the county is in a different place now than where it has been in terms of land availability, infrastructure and presentation.
“Right now, every community from Florida to Maine has cornfields with a sign out in the middle that says, ‘Available for industrial development.’ But they’ve not had any topographic work done on it. They haven’t done any testing on it,” Edds says. “So these properties can’t just have a sign in them. They have to be developed, and we have to do our legwork ahead of time, and we have to know that they are ready and available for development.”
Edds says that he, the EDC and county partners have begun going to sites with potential buyers and investors so that all of their questions can be answered immediately.
“It used to be that we had one economic development person meet with the prospect and it was do-or-die. And (now) we’ve taken a team approach to where we’re getting the whole community involved,” Edds says.
Edds gave an example of a recent showing that he said went well.
“And one thing that helped us out there is that we had everyone that would have something to do with that site on site,” Edds says. “So when the prospect was sitting there and had a question, we had our guys step up and say, ‘Here’s what we’ll do. It’s done. Here’s what you can expect. Next question?’”
Edds, Crider and Shelton say a new speculative building in Granite Quarry — the first spec building to be constructed in the county in years — would likely bring more prospective buyers and investors to the county.
“We are now able to respond to requests for information because we have an available building that we couldn’t have in the past,” Crider says. “So we’re getting more opportunities because that spec building exists, and we’ll get more looks and people will get to know us better.”
Construction on the building, located in Granite Industrial Park off Chamandy Drive, began in August. Shelton says it could be complete as early as May.
It is being built by Easter Creek Partners LLC and will be about 150,000 square feet.
Edds says the county is also working with another group of investors interested in building five more spec buildings.
“So we’ll have a whole inventory of buildings,” Edds says.
Crider, who started as EDC president in June, says he was drawn to Rowan County because it is “proactively addressing” economic development issues like infrastructure and workforce development.
Crider says workforce development — ensuring that workers have the updated skills required to meet employers’ needs — is a national challenge.
“I read a statistic today that for my granddaughter, who’s 5 years old, 65 percent of the jobs that will be available when she graduates from college don’t exist today,” Crider says. “So how do you train a person for a job that you don’t even know what it’s going to be?”
He says the fact that some workers don’t have the skills employers need is “not the fault of, really, anybody.”
“It’s just a reflection of technology is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep people up with the latest technology. So you always need to be retraining people,” Crider says.
Crider, Shelton and Edds say the North Carolina Manufacturer’s Institute gives Rowan County an advantage.
“We are the innovators of that in North Carolina,” Edds says. “Rowan County created the North Carolina Manufacturers Institute, and we’ve got communities from around the region that are coming to look at it to see what are you doing, how are you doing it.”
Crider says the EDC actively recruits advanced manufacturing companies because they provide “primary jobs.”
“They are jobs that create everything else, so the manufacturing jobs are really the base of any economy. And if the commercial and the service industries and everything else and retail are going to grow, it has to come from having that manufacturing base,” Crider says. “So that’s why we put a focus on it. Because they are the highest-value jobs with the highest indirect benefit and spinoff effect to the economy.”
Even with the challenges the county faces with workforce and economic development, Crider says he is “extremely optimistic” about the county’s future.
“It’s got everything going for it that anyone would want,” Crider says. “And so we just have to do a really good job of letting people know about the advantages and benefits of locating their business here, and we believe they will come.”
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