The Transylvania Times -

Alliance Explains Its Economic Development Focus

 

January 11, 2018



Editor’s Note: Recently, The Transylvania Times sat down with Josh Hallingse, the Transylvania Economic Alliance’s executive director, and Jeremy Owen, the Alliance board chairman.

The Alliance is a public-private economic development entity that is largely funded by the county.

As previously reported, part of the conversation with Hallingse and Owen focused on the Davidson River Village property, the former Ecusta plant site, and efforts to market it. The following are some of the other items discussed during that meeting.

For the Transylvania Economic Alliance, there have been three main areas of focus since its creation: marketing the county to companies interested in locating here, working with existing businesses and companies, and identifying site and building availability in the county.

“It’s been a challenge for Transylvania County (for a long time),” said Josh Hallingse, the Alliance’s executive director, to meet these focus areas.

A “big milestone” for the Alliance, however, was the recent green light for the proposed 60,750-square-foot light industrial building on Ecusta Road, said Hallingse, who was hired in April of 2015 to lead the organization.

The project is a partnership with the county, the City of Brevard and the Alliance.

SylvanSport, a manufacturer of camping trailers, will occupy roughly half the building, while the remaining space will be marketed to other potential tenants.

A groundbreaking for the building is planned for Friday, Jan. 19, and construction should last roughly eight months.

The building’s construction is a part of the effort to have more available sites/buildings on the market. The lack of available buildings with significant square footage has consistently been cited as a major hurdle for economic development in the county.

Marketing the County

Rather than the size of a business or company, the Alliance’s focus is more on the “type.”

The Alliance is focusing on targeted industries, such as outdoor gear, organic food and natural products, and finding the space to accommodate them.

The trend in the state and the country, Hallingse said, is for a smaller footprint, in terms of employment, and higher investment levels of equipment and facilities.

Manufacturing is becoming more advanced and automated, requiring fewer people to operate machines.

The county does not see a lot of interest from 2,000-employee industries. Jeremy Owen, the Alliance Board’s chairman and a local real estate agent, suggested that an incorrect assumption by many is that the former Ecusta plant site could “solve all our issues.”

He said it needs to be “one of many options” that are available.

The county’s “bread and butter” is going to be a family owned business, such as SylvanSport, which has an “affinity for the community” that goes beyond just “dollars and cents,” Hallingse said.

Owen said he tells people that Transylvania County is not a “bottom-line community.”

“If you are looking at the bottom line as your deciding factor, we are not going to be in the running,” he said. “We are not going to be the least expensive option. There are a lot of reasons for that, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

The types of businesses and employers the county does want, Owen said, are those who have a “vested interest here and are not going to pack up and leave when the bottom line looks better in another location.”

Money’s Worth

In October of 2014, the county and the Alliance signed an initial three-year contract, which included a lump sum every year, with payments every quarter. This past October, the Alliance and the county changed to a yearly contract, with slightly different expectations and requirements.

The new contract aligns the Alliance’s work with the county’s budget process and has clearer guidelines for reporting, evaluations and results.

As of today, the county has provided the Alliance $1,590,695 in funding, which goes toward salaries and benefits for its two-member staff, marketing and business development, planning and other efforts.

When asked what has the county got for its funding, Owen noted that when the Alliance was formed a lot of time was spent building the organization and “getting our bearings, making sure the steps we took were based in fact.”

“We didn’t want to do something just for the sake of doing it,” he said. “We wanted to do things the right way.”

The initial work included hiring a company, Greenfield, to identify and evaluate sites in the county that could be used for economic development.

A mapping tool was created that has specific data about parcels of land and buildings, including information about floodplains, slopes, street maps and infrastructure.

This and other work, Owen said, allowed the Alliance to approach the commissioners and community to make recommendations on what needed to be done. It laid the foundation for the Ecusta Road project and Renova, the owners of the Davidson River Village property, entering the Duke Energy Site Readiness Program, which identifies property suitable for economic development.

For the Alliance, though, its number one focus has been the businesses that are already here and helping them grow and prosper.

Those efforts include not only helping SylvanSport, but Oskar Blues Brewery’s expansion and Automated Tool & Machine moving into the 50,000-square-foot former Peter Vitalie building in Rosman.

“It’s important to remember that these folks are here, have invested here and we need to support them,” Owen said.

Hallingse said business retention gets “overshadowed a lot.”

He noted a number of “incredible businesses” already in the county, including Gaia Herbs, MB Industries, Transylvania Vocational Services, KEIR Manufacturing, Pharmagra Labs and Pisgah Labs.

“These are interesting, fascinating companies, and we want to make sure that they have got an opportunity to stay here and grow here and continue to be part of our community,” Hallingse said.

Water and Sewer

The Greenfield study was a “reality check,” Owen said, noting the removal of public lands, floodplain and steep slopes from available use for economic development, and the lack of water and sewer infrastructure in the county.

“All of a sudden, you don’t have as much as you thought you did,” Owen said.

Hallingse said water and sewer infrastructure is “incredibly important.”

“It helps us refine more where the opportunities are,” he said.

Most companies, Hallingse said, won’t relocate somewhere if they have to put in their own water and sewer. Building codes, for example, also require a sprinkler system, which relies on a water source. The City of Brevard and the town of Rosman have been “proactive” in communicating with the Alliance about their existing services, but the “big question” is the expansion of these services and where it would occur.

On the Alliance’s website, for example, is a vacant 5,844-square-foot building at 4599 Hendersonville Highway. It only, however, has a well for water.

Sewer lines, for one, would likely not be extended out of the city limits and would require annexation of the property if they were.

“It’s expensive to run water and sewer, and you need some reasonable rate of return to maintain them,” Hallingse said.

Owen said the “perception” is that water and sewer line expansion is all based on land-use controls.

That is an “element,” he said, but the most important component is financial and the “return on investment.”

Hallingse said water and sewer are long-term issues and, for now, the Alliance’s strategy is to look “realistically” where water and sewer could be “extended cost effectively.”

That means identifying properties that are close to Brevard and Rosman.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve got developable land, but it is so far from water and sewer, where you need to chase grant funding or ask the city or town to offset the costs,” Hallingse said.

Owen said the county, Brevard, Rosman and residents need to have a conversation about whether water and sewer capacity expansion is wanted, Owen said.

Growth/Workforce

Transylvania’s population is growing about 0.7 percent per year, which is slightly behind the Asheville market but is about the same as the national average, Hallingse said.

As far as employment, the county has seen more growth in manufacturing compared to other sectors.

On average, manufacturing is also paying more than other areas, such as the service industry or accommodations.

The county has a “deficit” of about 1,200 people who work outside the county compared to those who come into the county to work.

Hallingse said those numbers are an “opportunity” to grow employment in the county.

To help foster a properly trained workforce, the Alliance works closely with the school system and Blue Ridge Community College.

Employers are looking for “attitude and aptitude” — to be able to be trained, Hallingse said.

Both Hallingse and Owen appeared optimistic about the county’s economic outlook.

They hope to continue having collaborative efforts, as with the Ecusta Road project, to lay the groundwork for more facilities and sites to be available, and to have conversations with the public about today’s economic development realities.

For more information about the Alliance, go to http://www.transylvaniaalliance.com.

 
 

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