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Monday, October 19, 2009

Fixing Hickory - Economic Development Corporation’s Programming Strategies presented Scott Millar

Danny Hearn introduced Scott Millar and talked about the importance of the EDC's role in the creation and retention of jobs.

Scott Millar is the President of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation. He started out by showing pictures of the development of the property where Apple's Data Center resides and the progression of that development. Scott previously discussed many details involving the Apple Data Center during the Future Economy Council meeting held in August.

Future Economy Council Meeting #6 (8/19/2009)

Just what is Apple doing in Maiden?

Scott went into the planning that took place at the retreat last November. He mentioned that the North Carolina Department of Commerce has brought forward many opportunities. many companies want to be located near Charlotte. Much of the driving force is created by the distance from Charlotte's International Airport.

The EDC also maintains relationships with site selection consultants from throughout the world. They try to meet with representatives face-to-face so that they can build a personal relationship. That way they will know more about the EDC and come to them directly instead of going through a third party. This is where they get a lot of the non-targeted manufacturing opportunities.

The EDC also works on trying to accommodate existing industries. If they can relieve a headache, maybe by utilizing the Manufacturing Solutions Center, then it helps local businesses compete in the extremely difficult Global Environment. What kind of ammunition are we providing local industries to enable them to stay, hopefully grow, and maintain jobs and tax base here in Catawba County.

The above examples are the traditional stuff, the reactive stuff. The EDC is also trying to be proactive, but there are only so many resources that they have. Where do they focus these resources?

First, the Data Center initiative was started in August 2006. They have analyzed the opportunities in the development of new technology and they are looking at energy and the emerging opportunities in that field. They must be able to tak advantage of these opportunities.

You have to have product. The Lincoln County Industrial Park took opportunities from Catawba County, because it was ready to go and it was very visible. The Lincoln County Industrial Park was considered to be an excellent alternative to Charlotte Proper, and it was operationally less expensive. If you don't have product ready to go, then you are behind the 8-ball.

Prior to 2006, no one (in the area) really knew what a Data Center was. At the time there was a business park being developed on Hwy 321. The Park had huge power, huge water, and it has multiple fiber connections. They realized that this site could be utilized by a Data Center. They developed multiple approaches to market to Data Center opportunities. They would have sold the Park to anybody, if the price was right, but the priority was Data Centers.

Scott mentioned the marketing of the Apple-Google Corridor and how do we market the name and brand the corridor. He is certain that the companies are not going to allow us to use their company name. One thing is for sure, whatever name that eventually sticks will be synonymous with new tech opportunities. Many more possibilities have opened up as a result of this burgeoning corridor.

This Park is being developed and now they are out of product. They have to develop one or more opportunities for development, but that is going to be difficult. There are more opportunities for development along I-40, but companies desire Hwy 321 and its proximity to the Charlotte Airport. They are going to have to soon decide.

Scott next started discussing future opportunities like the Green Economy and the Smart Grid. We have the 3rd highest manufacturing Workforce concentration in the U.S. We need to start analyzing our strong suits and how they mesh with new opportunities on the horizon. There are a lot of products that we don't understand and therefore we don't understand the opportunities available. Let's go where everyone else isn't and develop opportunities for that. We need to find our niche and develop our arguments for why these companies need to come here. We need to explain what sets us apart from everyone else.

What makes Hickory and Catawba County different? the Eco-Complex, the Manufacturing Solutions Center. There are very few MSAs that have the level of cultural offerings that we have offered for years. Other MSAs don't have the water resources that we have. We need to understand the assets that we have and what makes us different from everyone else. If we don't maintain those differences, then suddenly we become like every other mid-sized area. Areas that we feel like we are bigger and better than at this point. And it will become harder to compete for Economic Development opportunities.

We have a pretty complex economic spectrum. When we look at ourselves like a wheel. we have some loose spokes and their is a wobble to the wheel. There are entities dealing with a lot of the spokes and each entity and agency has to be given a responsibility specific to the spokes. The EDC is working on specific tasks and there are other opportunities that can't be covered by the EDC. Scott's final summary question was, If there are opportunities we are interested in, how do we make sure that all of the opportunities are being taken care of? Are we missing any sectors? Are we making sure that we are looking at all of the sectors?

What sectors are we missing? Where should we be looking? And what entities should be responsible for that?

Some comments from the Question and Answer session:
*** North Carolina has an economic distress level tiering system with 3 tiers. Catawba County is a tier 2, which allows us to receive a moderate level of incentives from the State. Could we become a tier 1 which would allow us to receive $12,500 per job versus the current $5,000? It also allows you to receive Golden Leaf Foundation funding and Rural Center funding. Caldwell and Burke Counties are tier 1 counties.

***Product is competitively priced buildings, sites, or parks.

***What would be the perfect type of industry for this area? An Apple like entity that creates a lot of higher paying jobs. Headquarters types of corporations and Engineering oriented types of facilities. This market has supported high tech, high quantity job creation in the past. Scott said he would like to see 600 to 1200 person, engineering types of operations that drives a lot... We thought we were bullet proof in 1999.

The Hound can't add any more to what Scott Millar stated here. He has his finger on the pulse of what this community needs to move towards being. He, along with the others at this conference, have been telling everyone that we need to move forward. We need to assess the ingredients we have and quit obsessing about what we don't have.

The future and growth will involve technology, which involves engineering. I believe that the foundation can be laid to make progress possible, but as we have seen in the past, personal interests can take us in the opposite direction of where common sense and good judgment should be leading us. That is one reason that I would like to see us hitch a ride with Charlotte and build relationships with Raleigh and other centrifugal communities. The only thing we have to fear is what we've got, and that is years of the Status Quo.

Malaise = Status Quo

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