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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jim Rice - A Man ahead of Time - He wanted to diversify Catawba County Industry in 1977

James Oscar "Jim" Rice Jr. recently moved back to Catawba County from St. Louis, Missouri. He is the principle founder of VisionAire Jets LLC. The objective of this company is to carry on the program for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification of theVantage business jet originally developed by VisionAire. I will be writing a subsequent article dealing with the prospects and possibilities of this jet being assembled here in Catawba County.

Below is an article that was published in February of 1977 detailing the need to diversify Industry in this area. Mr. Rice played a vital role as part of a Task Force created by the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce that created what we know today as the Economic Development Corporation. Read below and see that if our area had taken action sooner involving the suggestions therein, then maybe we could have alleviated many of the economic pains that we have gone through over the last decade.

(Chamber Views article, February 1977) - Editors Note: The following is an Interview with James O. Rice Jr. regarding plans to establish an Economic Development Commission for Catawba County. Mr. Rice served as Vice-President of Economic Development for the Chamber in 1976 and currently serves as Chairman of the Chamber's task force to establish the commission. He is President of The Resource Group Ltd., a management consulting firm with offices In Conover.

1. Why do you feel there is a need for additional Industry In Catawba County?
Chamber members will remember that in 1975 the Chamber set up a task force to evaluate the commercial and industrial mix in Catawba County. The study by the task force showed that there is a need for a diversification of industry in Catawba County. It was pointed out in the study that of 439 industrial firms in the county. the strongest concentration is in furniture with 36 percent; textile, 9 percent and hosiery, 26 percent. Over 70 percent of our industry concentration is in three industrial fields. This means that if unhealthiness develops in anyone of these particular industries it has a tremendous negative effect on Catawba County. Another matter that came up during the study was that Catawba County loses a lot of good talent each year when our college and high school graduates seek jobs in other types of industry that are not represented here. Also, it was noted that we could use many more white collar jobs and still not affect the labor base negatively in the county. Looking at it from a county-wide standpoint and at the financing of future services which come from the tax base, it is very evident that if Catawba County is able to attract industries that require a lot of capital, then the tax base will be improved which will mean that citizens will continue to get the additional services needed and the cost will be spread among additional entities.

2. What is the Chamber's policy regarding the recruitment of new Industry?
The Chamber has developed a policy to establish an economic development commission in Catawba County which would seek new business and industry on a selective basis in accordance with their impact relative to (1) labor requirements, (2) energy and natural resource demands, (3) environmental considerations, (4) manufacturing facilities requirements, (5) zoning requirements, and (6) housing requirements. This policy also states that the Chamber will continue to support and develop manpower programs consistent with local business and industry needs. The type of industry to be sought will be capital intensive, meaning that they will have a large investment in plant facilities and equipment and will use a limited number of employees in producing the product. The result will be very little noticeable effect on the present industry since the new industry will help to keep many Catawba County citizens from leaving to find the type of employment that they now seek elsewhere. Also, the new industry will probably attract additional people to the County to work that live in surrounding counties.

3. What type of new industry would be recruited?
The specifics have not been pinned down on the exact type of industry, whether it be chemical, electronic, materials handling, etc., however, it is expected that the economic development commission will diligently seek diversification from furniture, textile and hosiery.

4. What effect will this new Industry have on existing Industry?
We learned on a factfinding trip to Wilson and Fayetteville last year that many of the obvious type fears that present industry might have concerning additional new industry coming in are unfounded. A businessman in Wilson who is president of a firm that has been in existence for over 100 years stated that at first he was opposed to new industry coming into the Wilson area. He pointed out, however, that after a decade of seeing what new industry has done for the area his fears were unfounded. He lost almost none of his labor force and found that the positive effects of managers of other industries coming into the area strengthened his industry's management and personnel, as well as the community at large. Certainly the new industry will attract a few of the workers from present industry. No one could deny that; however, with the diversification of industry that will be attracted, it is not expected that any local plant will have a wholesale run on its labor force. In fact, because Catawba County is geared toward progress, it could mean that each industry here now will have an even better selection in the labor market as additional people move to Catawba County.

5. What plans are being made to establish an Industry recruitment program for Catawba County? When will It be established?
Fortunately, members of the Catawba County Board of Commissioners and other leaders of cities and towns in the area also see a need to increase the tax base and diversify industrial jobs available. Because of this interest, the Chamber is joining with the county and municipalities to form a joint task force to develop plans for establishing an Economic Development Commission. It is expected that this work will be done in time for the Catawba County Board of Commissioners and municipalities to make a decision on budgeting money for the program. It is expected that an industrial development commission and office could well be set up by mid-summer and no later than January, 1, 1978.

6. Will this program require a full time professional?
In order to assure the success ot an Economic Development Commission which will be composed of a cross-section of Catawba county citizens, including business, professional, governmental leaders, it will definitely take a full time professional staff person to implement the plans outlined by the commission. This professional must have such a background that he will be able to deal with local industrialists and commercial people as well as presidents and top officers of companies, which we wish to attract here. We would hope that we can acquire someone who already has experience in attracting industry.

7. What type of funding will be required to establish this program?
Though no specifics have been determined concerning a budget for an Economic De- velopment Commission and office to support it, it is expected that an annual budget would run in the $40,000 to $60,000 range.

8. How long after the program Is established should we expect new industry to io- cate?
After looking at other programs started in other areas. We would be very fortunate if we could attract a significant industry to Catawba County within a two-year period. Certainly we would want to set a goal to attract one much earlier than that; however, to do a proper job of getting this program established to operate for many years in the future, the commission will be meeting with officials of companies that are making long-range plans and the results would not be seen for some of these companies for at least three to five years.

The Hounds Notes: The Economic Development Commission detailed above was formed into a commission called the "Catawba County Industrial Development Commission." In 1993, this commission was merged with the Hickory Office of Business Development and renamed the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation. This is the organization that Scott Millar presides over today.

At the time, in 1977, as you can read in the article, many Furniture and Textile business owners balked over the idea of bringing other forms of industry into the area. The main reason was because they were worried about Labor Competition and a resulting escalation of wages. Labor is the number one cost of most businesses in the United States.

In the late 1970s, even though the national economy was stagnant due to inflation, Catawba County was experiencing full employment. Mr. Rice was an Employment Recruitment Specialist and his firm (The Resource Group) was having to aggressively recruit people to the area to fill the jobs in our local manufacturing industries. I know this very well, because my mother worked for Mr. Rice for a time in the late 1970s. I know how dynamic the Job Recruitment industry was at that time.

Our area was growing, but we had a problem, because we weren't able to move forward with the modernization of our industry into new sectors, such as high-tech electronics and energy related fields. Cable was still a small sector of our industrial make-up in 1977, but it was on the way towards blossoming in the early 1980s, with the deregulation of the telephone industry and the advent and subsequent growth of the cable television industry. There was a smooth transition to the Telecommunications - Cable - Fiber Optic Industry in the 1980s and 1990s as the Textile/Hosiery workforce began to be off shored. And no one minded, because the Cable Industry jobs paid more.

Once again what we saw was the lack of diversification that Mr. Rice describes in the article above. Except for short periods of time in the early 1980s and again in the early 1990s, we experienced very low unemployment from the mid 1970s until the year 2000, especially in comparison to the rest of the nation. Since 2000, those tables have turned dramatically. I have shown the numbers in several articles on this site. Not one month since the year 2001 have we been better than the national average when it comes to unemployment.

My next article is going to be about the new opportunity that Mr. Rice is bringing to our doorstep. I am excited about the prospects of assembling Jets in our area. That is the culture that we need to establish in this community and it is long overdue. A mindset towards excellence and 21st century technology along with a Can-Do spirit. Now that formula can take you places.

Contact Information for Mr. Rice at VisionAire Jets:
(877) 334-8504
(704) 325-3286
(704) 325-3945 Fax

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