Polk County needs product to play economic development game

Published 9:46 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This time of year one could easily make the case for a connection between March Madness and economic development.

I have to confess that I’m not a big sports fan, however, NCAA basketball tournaments draw enormous attention not only from diehard fans but also from the general public, because anyone can win if they just get in the game. The college basketball world is indeed flat – more Cinderella teams seem to have a shot at the big time each year.

That said, even teams from small schools have to have something to offer in order to get in the game. Polk County needs to have something to offer in order to get in the economic development game; more than quality of life, more than pretty views, more than low crime – it needs product.

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What is product?

In the language of economic development, product is your hard real estate assets. We need a North Carolina Certified Site in the form of a modern, green, business and/or light industrial park with all the tools of doing business in the 21st century such as large parking lots, flexible and expandable building spaces and an easily accessible location.

We have the complimentary side dishes for a great business/light industrial park: interstate highway, access to nearby international airports, advanced telecommunications and fiber optics, ample utility feeds, customized employee training programs from Isothermal Planning and Development and more.

Locally, our neighboring counties have taken necessary steps to provide “product.”

Rutherford County, our neighbor to the east, offered the former Rutherford 74 Corporate Center, which was purchased in its entirety by Facebook. Rutherford County has an additional site, Rutherford Corporate 221 Center, still in development, as well as a private project, River Stone, with a spec building and a mega site.

McDowell County has made a dedicated effort to secure appropriate land and buildings and convert to industrial re-use. McDowell has developed an industrial park on the interstate giving the advantage of investing in the site with infrastructure and then controlling the site. The county currently has three company locations and is working on a fourth. Adds Chuck Abernathy, county manager, “You can have the greatest quality of life in the state and without product new businesses are difficult to attract.”

Finally, Cleveland County, even further east toward Charlotte, has worked its seven-year plan to provide product. Kristin Fletcher, Cleveland County’s uber-achieving economic developer, points out that the county made a significant investment in securing business park space and then went into hyper-drive marketing what they have to the world. Their business parks include Disney, Merck call center, Hanes and Duke Energy Training Center among other big names.

This has resulted in private investment of millions upon millions in the county over the past five years. It required a very large investment in infrastructure from Cleveland County. To its credit, Cleveland County also created a Manufacturing Academy, an 18-week program for high school seniors interested in a career in manufacturing, as well as a Teachers Academy, bridging the gap between industry and education.

Experts in site selection for relocating corporations insist that seeking a new corporate home starts with “product” – an actual piece of ground to relocate- and is closely followed by highly skilled and available work force, infrastructure, transportation, strategic location, quality of life for employees and a pro-business community. But, first, before recruiting starts, a menu of “product” is the opener. We need “product.”