Businessmen Talk About Henderson County - Brevard NC
Last updated 10/30/2013 at 1pm
Two Transylvania County business owners discussed their personal business experiences in Henderson County and offered insight into how its economic development efforts differ in some ways than Transylvania’s during last week’s Independent Economic Development Task Force meeting.
The two businessmen, Tom Dempsey, owner of SylvanSport, and Wes Dickson, owner of Sycamore Cycles, were invited by the task force to share their experiences as part of the task force’s ongoing efforts to gather information pertaining to economic development efforts in Transylvania County.
Dempsey’s experience in Henderson County dates back to 2000 when he started Legacy Kayaks, which produced the Liquid Logic brand of kayaks. One major reason he chose Henderson County over Transylvania County was its proximity to the Green River Gorge in Saluda.
“I liked the culture of Brevard, the nature of it, the size, the feeling, the people – all of it – it was more my style,” he said. “But we ended up in Henderson County…because we were able to find a property near the Green River, which is one of North America’s best paddling testing grounds. Plus, it was a great piece of property and a great marketing opportunity.”
Dickson, who is also a Brevard city councilman, discussed starting his cycling retail business in downtown Brevard before relocating it to Pisgah Forest. Once established, he noticed a growing number of cyclists visiting his store from Henderson County, so he decided to launch a second location in downtown Hendersonville.
Dickson said Henderson County was in a lot of ways very different than Transylvania County. Instead of finding few available spaces, one of his biggest problems was trying to decide what location would be the best fit for his business.
“There is just so much product over there the question is, ‘Where do you put it?’” he said. “That being said, the more competitive environment meant people were more compelled to try and get us in a space.”
Dickson said he found the price per square foot was around 10 percent lower than Transylvania County when it came to retail space, but said other costs and fees, including a higher phone bill, offset the cost difference.
“That’s just part of the game,” he said. “There are different costs in different communities; but people find where they want to be based on certain criteria. For myself at least, I look for certain things that would work here…I want quality, because I don’t want to have to move again. I’m happy to expand, but I don’t want to move.”
He recalled looking for property to start the Kayaking manufacturing company in 2000 and that he contacted the Transylvania County Economic Development Office, but had a hard time finding a location that suited his needs.
“There is more available space in Henderson County simply because there is more population and the county is bigger,” he said, noting that it is important to remember that Henderson County is four times the size of Transylvania County.
Starting A Business
In 2000, Dickson said starting a business in Brevard was as simple as walking into City Hall and filling out a one-page application.
“It was all on one sheet of paper,” he said.
He said his knowledge of Brevard, who to talk to and where to go, helped him quickly find out what he needed to do to get his business up and running.
Likewise, Dempsey recalled a similar experience in the 1990s when he started a business in Huntsville, Ala.
“It was the easiest thing I ever did,” he said. “There were modest fees, no impact fees, and the city and the community were really supportive of entrepreneurial businesses.”
In addition to providing Dempsey’s startup business with cash incentives to extend infrastructure to the site, Dempsey recalled that Henderson County economic development officials went out of there way to help him get his business up and running in 2000.
“They were figuring out how to make this 26-acre property that we bought work for the business,” he said. “They basically enabled us to do what we wanted to do there and took away the barriers. In terms of navigating that whole landscape, I didn’t do a thing. It was all facilitated for us and made very easy.”
Dempsey said that while he believes Henderson County does a lot of things well, he said it’s important to remember that Transylvania County is not Henderson County.
“We have a quarter of their population, so we certainly don’t have the resources they have,” he said. “But it’s more of an attitude. In a way, we have this legacy or mentality that says, ‘Well, this is the way it’s always been in the past and these have been the problems.’ So, we project those into the future through that acknowledgment of the past.”
“I think that’s really more of a manufactured problem than a real problem,” he said. “It’s an attitude problem.”
Dempsey said his experience in Henderson was one in which everyone he worked with did everything they could to make the process of purchasing the property and starting the business go as smoothly as possible.
While he did not live in Henderson County, he said his experience working there for over five years led him to believe that there were no rifts between different entities.
“There were no conflicts,” he said. “The city and the county worked well together and it was a very smooth process.”
When asked how the startup environment in Transylvania County compared to his experience in Henderson County, Dempsey said it was not a fair comparison because of the difference in the size of his businesses.
“(SylvanSport) was a much smaller company,” he said. “I didn’t come to the county when I started SylvanSport and say I was going to hire 40 people and make products here in the first year. So, it’s not really fair to compare them on that level.”
Furthermore, Dempsey said he is not the type of businessperson who seeks out or expects any kind of assistance.
In discussing some of the issues he experienced when he relocated his business from Cedar Mountain, where he started it in 2005, to Brevard to begin manufacturing of the SylvanSport line of lightweight campers, Dempsey said he found some aspects of the process to be more difficult than they perhaps needed to be.
Dempsey characterized the issues he faced as barriers to success that boiled down to the business being unable to clearly understand what was needed to meet the city’s requirements.
“There was no centralized entity saying, ‘Here’s exactly what you need to do to make this work in our friendly community,’” he said. “It was more like, ‘You haven’t done this and if you don’t do this by tomorrow, you’re going to be in big trouble.’”
When asked how that differed from Henderson County, Dempsey said it boiled down to having someone to walk him through the entire process, as opposed to having someone point him in the right direction.
“It’s an attitude of facilitation,” Dempsey said. “That’s really all it is. Once we understood what we were supposed to do, it was easy. It wasn’t an issue of following the rules; it was understanding what we were supposed to do and doing it in a constructive way that helps clear those logjams.”
If given a choice between Henderson and Transylvania counties as a place to do business, Dempsey said there was no way he could provide an unbiased opinion.
“I have lived here long enough to have a perspective on Transylvania County that is indelible. This is a phenomenal place to live. I love living here. My family loves living here. I can’t think of a better place to be to raise a family than Transylvania County and Brevard,” he said. “For me, it’s not a matter of choice. It’s a matter of trying to make this the best place it can be. So, when I talk about experiences in the past, I want to emphasize that all of the personnel involved were great.”
Negative Feedback Loop
Dempsey and Dickson both agreed that stopping the negativity surrounding economic development in Transylvania County is an important next step in the economic development process. Dempsey said recognizing problems and working to fix them should always be a priority. He said focusing on the big picture could keep the process more productive.
“The more we have perspective that we can draw from other communities, the better off we’ll be,” he said. “There are certainly things from Henderson County that we can borrow or adapt and there are things from all sorts of places. Innovation is just adaptation of things to new uses.”
“We have phenomenal potential,” he said. “There are really a lot of great aspects. And in terms of being positioned for good things to happen, we have a lot of people who are doing great things.”
Dempsey thanked the task force for their efforts in working to improve the economic development process.
Dickson said he believes anytime there is a problem with the various rules or regulations in the city or the county those guidelines should be questioned.
“To question why we do something is fine,” he said. “But we need to stand behind the reasons we do the things we do. What is our goal here? Why do we need a sidewalk whenever you build a new building? That’s a great question. Our goal is to make it a walkable community.
“We need to be okay with someone who doesn’t agree with that,” he said.
Dempsey said that while it is okay to have people not choose to locate their business in Transylvania County for certain reasons, he said it is very important that the city and the county work to find out why they chose a different location.
“We all here stories about businesses that chose to locate somewhere else,” he said. “But we want to know about that because we want to find out why. We don’t want to ignore that.”