The Transylvania Times -

Director Gives Economic Development Update – Brevard NC

 

September 3, 2018



Josh Hallingse, the Transylvania Economic Alliance executive director, presented his semi-annual report to county commissioners last week.

The report is a part of the contract requirements the county has with the Alliance.

Hallingse talked about the Alliance’s focus, goals and achievements during the past fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The Alliance has three main focuses: existing business retention and expansion; product development (sites and buildings); and marketing and business development.

The three cannot be separated and interplay with one another is required to be successful, Hallingse said.

The Alliance evaluates the work it does to meet these focus areas by, for example, setting goals for the number of potential investors who visit the county and those private employers who actually relocate or expand here.

For the previous fiscal year, the Alliance set a goal of eight visits and had seven, and set a goal of four projects locating here and had three.

Hallingse said for the current fiscal year these goals and others have been ramped up because of some success in the amount of sites and buildings that are now available.

Last fiscal year, for example, 204,247 square feet of building space, 30 buildings and 20 sites were available. The Alliance’s efforts include reaching out to building and property owners to try and include what they have in the available inventory.

Hallingse noted that if and when the building space and sites become occupied, it conversely means a reduction in the amount of product available to market.

“You want to see that number go down, but from a marketing standpoint it’s hard to market and do business development when you have less and less inventory,” he said.

The total number of acreage available last fiscal year spiked to roughly 392 acres thanks to the Davidson River Village property (the former Ecusta site) being officially put on the market at $15 million.

“It was a big milestone,” Hallingse said about the property having a sale price, making it easier to market.

As for the 30 buildings being available, the initial goal was 45. Hallingse largely attributed the drop to the number of available spots being filled in French Broad Place, which he called one of the most marketable sites in Brevard.

For available buildings, the Alliance doesn’t consider residential and is more focused on commercial and industrial spaces.

There is no minimum size, Hallingse said, but the smallest space they have available now is about 900 square feet.

The Alliance website includes information about the available sites and buildings.

Hallingse said “investment properties,” however, are something the Alliance doesn’t list.

Existing businesses are a major focus of the Alliance’s mission, helping them with any problems or issues and addressing ways to aid the business, such as expanding or saving money.

Another Alliance effort is hosting local manufacturing roundtables, where news and issues are shared.

Commissioner Mike Hawkins noted all these “activities” are “great” but the really important factors are the jobs that are created and the investments that are made.

Hallingse agreed.

The goal for full-time jobs created last fiscal year was 45 and the actual amount brought in was 65, while the capital investment goal was $3 million and the actual number invested was $2.1 million.

Hallingse said the majority of what was achieved was thanks to the reopening of the Greystone Inn and its new owners’ investment.

The Alliance’s goals for the current fiscal year are 50 new jobs and $3 million in investment.

Another factor the Alliance looks at is how Transylvania County compares from an economic development standpoint with peer counties in the state, such as Ashe, Bladen, Dare, Jackson, Macon, Montgomery, Scotland, Watauga, Cherokee, Haywood and Madison.

The factors include population, labor force, jobless numbers, average wages and housing numbers.

Transylvania’s population, housing units, tax base, labor force and those employed grew this past year, for example.

Last fiscal year, the county’s estimated average annual wage of $35,562; however, that was a slight decrease from the $35, 966 of the previous year.

Commission Chairman Larry Chapman asked Hallingse what he believed were the county’s “major obstacles” in the next few years.

Hallingse pointed to the area that has repeatedly been highlighted as a hindrance in the past: the lack of sites and buildings.

“Right now we are selling out of an empty car lot,” Hallingse said regarding the county’s lack of locations suited for light industrial use.

He said the Davidson River Village site is a “critical piece,” but other options need to be found.

“It takes more than one property, particularly a property that is as complex as a Brownfield site, like Davidson River,” Hallingse said.

A Brownfield site is typically a former industrial site that’s been polluted in some way and faces restrictions and conditions for reuse.

Chapman mentioned another statistic about the county — its median age of 50, which is the sixth highest median age in the state. He asked whether that was a “significant impediment to economic development.”

Hallingse said rural communities are typically older but having an older demographic means these are people with experience. He said 35 percent of the county’s workforce has more than a college degree, which is well-above the state average.

“It does have an impact on who we can recruit, but it’s also in line with our target markets,” he said.

Hawkins said there is more than just one issue, such as available product, when addressing economic development questions. If someone was to bring an industry to the county that could employee 200 people, for example, available housing would be a problem that would have to be addressed, he suggested.

Another effort Hallingse highlighted was the state’s building reuse program, which the Greystone Inn’s new owners benefitted from thanks to a $100,000 grant. Hallingse said such programs are “essential” to economic development.

Hallingse also said that the building under construction on Ecusta Road — the Sylvan Valley Industrial Center — should be completed this fall.

Manufacturing

Hallingse wrapped up his presentation talking about manufacturing and the perception that it no longer exists in the county.

He said the community has changed in the past two decades. In 2002, Ecusta, DuPont and Coats America closed. Prior to that, there were roughly 1,900 manufacturing jobs in Transylvania.

“Manufacturing is not dead in our community,” he said. “It’s actually a very important component of our economic development strategy.”

There are 700 full-time manufacturing jobs currently in the county, while more than 600 jobs are supported through indirect and direct spending by the manufacturers.

The annual tax impacts from manufacturing in Transylvania includes roughly $12 million to the federal government, roughly $8 million to the state, $7.4 million to the county and $1.3 million to the City of Brevard.

When looking over a five-year period at the percentage of the employment growth rate for manufacturing versus all industries, there was a 68.6 percent increase in manufacturing in Transylvania compared to 8.4 percent in other industries.

“That is substantial,” Hallingse said.

Statewide, all industries saw a 10.8 percent increase and manufacturing saw a 6.3 percent increase. Nationwide there was a 9.2 percent increase in all industries and 4.2 percent increase in manufacturing.

In net new jobs over a five-year period, manufacturing made up 41.7 percent in Transylvania. In North Carolina, it made up 6.5 percent, and in the country it made up 4.1 percent.

Today, Hallingse pointed out, local residents are also employed in manufacturing in significant numbers — roughly 475 — in other counties.

“We are exporting talent who could be working here,” he said. “The labor force is extremely tight, not just here, but everywhere. Employers are having a hard time finding qualified talent, but we do have it here…in a significant scale that is being untapped in some cases.”

This fall, the Alliance will launch a video-series campaign to highlight 10 of the county’s manufacturers.

Hawkins said manufacturing is repeatedly mentioned because of the “historical role” it played in the county and the impression that it is a “good job” that pays well, provides benefits and is a more “desirable job” than most other sectors.

He asked Hallingse if that is still “true.”

Hallingse said the county’s “target markets” focus on a variety of sectors, including tourism.

“But we do focus heavily on the industrial sector,” he said. “The industrial sector has changed substantially over the last 20 years, but, yeah, a lot of our focus is on those job creators because of the wages and benefits associated, and the tax base associated are typically higher.”

In other action at the meeting:

•Commissioners approved spending $1.1 million to upgrade the county’s public safety radio system.

•No one spoke during a public hearing on the proposed changes to the county’s Mountain Ridge Protection Ordinance, which ensures that construction on mountain ridges is safe and protects the county’s scenic beauty. The current ordinance was adopted in 1983 and hasn’t been changed since then.

•The Planning and Community Development/Joint Historic Preservation Commission has been awarded a $9,000 State Historic Preservation Grant to undertake an architectural and cultural survey of African American communities in the county and to document these resources.

The effort has also been awarded matching funds from National Trust for Historic Preservation for up to $5,000. The total project cost estimated at $15,500.

 
 

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