City Officials Advised To ‘Get Sticky’ With Business
BREVARD, N.C. — To help attract the kind of economic development they want in Brevard, city officials need to “get sticky.”
This was one of the messages officials heard last week during an economic development work session held by the city council.
During the session, experts gave tips on the realities of today’s economic development environment and what it takes to be successful.
The “sticky” tip came from Clark Gillespie, the vice president of economic development, business development and territorial strategy for Duke Energy Carolinas.
He is also a former site selection consultant. Gillespie suggested the city needs to nurture relationships with consultants and business owners, invite them to the area and give them “a day they will never forget.”
Many site consultants, Gillespie said, live in the Greenville, S.C ., area, Gillespie said. The “wining and dining” approach is strongly recommended.
The new norm in attracting economic development, Gillespie said, includes more competition, fewer projects, the need for infrastructure and incentives, or “pay to play.”
A consultant doesn’t care what state a site is located in, Gillespie said.
He’s more interested in water lines and other infrastructure.
In the “pay to play” world, Gillespie advised picking an area the city is “good at” and gearing toward what it wants to attract.
Instead of promoting the “quality of life,” the “quality of place” is more important. The “quality of life” is merely personal, Gillespie said. The “quality of place” is what needs to be sold to consultants, according to Gillespie.
The consultants, he said, are “site elimination” experts. They will eliminate a location for innocuous reasons, such as being rude or misspelling a name.
“Don’t give them a reason,” Gillespie said.
When consultants start researching sites, a good website, with the appropriate information and message, is important because that is where they will start looking.
In his research of Brevard and Transylvania County, Gillespie said the following kept recurring: land of waterfalls, rainfall, water, camps, outdoor activity and small businesses.
This sparked several questions about the city and county: How many bottling businesses are there? Are there canoe and Kayaking manufacturers? Why aren’t they here? Why did Sierra Nevada not locate here?
Gillespie said he’d go to Biking companies and find where they located and why, and find out about the incentives they received.
Tom Johnson, executive vice president of Advantage West, said economic development is a “process.” It doesn’t happen overnight.
Advantage West is a 23 county and public/private organization. It works with “allies,” such as the N.C. Department of Commerce, Duke Energy, Norfolk Southern and others.
When a company looks to relocate, it may start with 500 locations.
The site selector then begins the job of eliminating choices down to one or two. Reasons for eliminating can include whether the site is within 5 miles of an Interstate.
As well as incentives, Johnson said, they look at several factors, such as the school system and the arts community.
Advantage West deals with both small and large manufacturers. When a site selector comes calling, Advantage West contacts counties to find out if they have what the business is looking for.
It’s “critical” to most manufacturers to have public water and sewer lines in place, Johnson said.
Councilman Rodney Locks asked if manufacturers prefer zoning or no zoning?
Johnson said he had “his eyes opened” to that a few years ago when he worked in Rutherford County, which had no zoning.
“I found we were getting ‘marked off the list’ sometimes because we didn’t have zoning,” he said.
Manufacturers don’t want a school or residential area located near them.
Having the proper “communications” in place is also significant, while a skilled or trainable workforce is equally important.
Councilman Maurice Jones asked whether projects come to certain counties based on tax policies or incentives?
“Down the road, yes,” Johnson said. “Incentives can be the difference between getting and not getting a project.”
Johnson said incentives need to be a “good business decision” for the city or county, otherwise don’t do them.
Johnson said sometimes you find out why a location wasn’t picked and other times you never know why.
Mark Burrows, the county’s planning and economic development director, said his office gets “leads” from Duke Energy, Advantage West and the Department of Commerce.
Sometimes, the feedback is confidential, but the main reason why the county doesn’t get selected is because of the lack of “product,” Burrows said.
“Product” is the acreage and/or building required by a business.
Johnson said between 75 and 80 percent of businesses are looking for existing buildings.
A business with 25 employees is typically looking for a building between 25,000 and 50,000 square feet, with a ceiling more than 20 feet.
“That’s a struggle,” Burrows said.
Another obstacle is financing economic development efforts. Aside from salaries and benefits, Burrows’s budget for economic development is $10,000.
Gillespie estimated it would cost the city $200,000 a year to hire one person to handle economic development and do the necessary work.
For the city, Burrows identified three major roles: infrastructure, downtown and the Pisgah Forest area, and the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
Extending utilities — water and sewer lines — will help economic development efforts.
Burrows encouraged the city to “follow through” on some of its projects, such as the downtown master plan, and to create greater ties between downtown and Pisgah Forest.
The Pisgah Forest area is the “first impression” people have of Brevard when they come from Hendersonville or Asheville, Burrows said.
As far as the UDO, the most important thing for the city is to help foster a diverse economic environment and be customer friendly.
The arts, music and outdoor recreation component have been “nailed” by the city, Burrows said.
What’s missing is industry – not another Ecusta and smoke stacks, but knowledge based businesses, such as Genie Products or Smith Systems.
The other component to the UDO is having appropriate places for manufacturing.
When the UDO was adopted, it eliminated a lot of potential manufacturing areas, Burrows said.
City Planning Director Josh Freeman said that when the UDO was adopted in 2006 the zoning map was brought in line with the city’s land-use plan and shrunk the areas zoned industrial, but corridor mixed use zoning, which allows light manufacturing, increased in the map.
Industry wants to be in certain areas, not beside restaurants and housing, he said.
Councilman Mac Morrow also noted that industrial sites have been lost to the new county law enforcement center and SAFE.
The UDO, Morrow said, has given the city the flexibility to handle just about anything. It has allowed more opportunities for small entrepreneurs.
The UDO was more about “developing a sense of place,” Morrow said, and to show the city how to get there.
Jones asked how the city is different from others in the region. Burrows said that in Western North Carolina Brevard and Transylvania County are “somewhat unique” for the “attributes we have.”
“It’s an easy sell,” he said.
Burrows said they have to figure out how to maintain the “sense of place” but also create jobs.
It’s important that all the players — governing bodies and others — in the community are on the same page, Gillespie said. The differing economic development efforts can’t become a “turf war,” Gillespie said.
Councilman Charlie Landreth also talked about the importance of having a joint effort before any key decision, such as where water and sewer lines may go, is made.
“(We) need to put our stories together…so that we are delivering one message,” he said.
Councilman Rodney Locks said he liked Gillespie’s advice of getting “sticky” and the idea of a “shared message and strategies,” but he believed it is important for the city to still continue with its own economic development process, “defining Brevard” and identifying its strengths.
Locks said the city also needs to create a business inventory, look at what’s missing in Brevard, do a better job in marketing and to address trends in things such as energy.
Gillespie said the city and county need to realize how competitive the economic development world is today.
He said both need to be “intentional, focused and relentless because that is what the competition is doing.”
“Hope is not a strategy,” he said.
A meeting including elected officials from Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, Rosman Board of Aldermen, Transylvania County School Board and Brevard City Council will discuss the county’s visioning process on May 17.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the library’s Rogow Room.