By the BF Staff
From the July/August 2020 Issue
In North Carolina, two discretionary, performance-based incentive programs help offset the cost of locating or expanding in The Tarheel State.
Through the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) and the One North Carolina Program (One NC), the North Carolina Department of Commerce tailors grants to best fit the needs of the community, attracting jobs and the company making an investment.
The JDIG award can often be a decisive factor in a company’s decision to choose NC over other states. Grant recipients have included Microsoft, which is adding 430 jobs in Charlotte; Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, which is bringing a major technology center to Charlotte, creating 1,612 jobs; AvidXchange, a leading fintech company, expanding in Charlotte, creating 1,229 jobs; and Honeywell, which is bringing its corporate headquarters to Charlotte along with 750 jobs.
The NC DOC administers OneNC grants on behalf of the governor.
OneNC grants also underscore the partnership and collaboration between the state and local jurisdictions that benefit companies that do business in North Carolina. OneNC awards require that a local government provide an incentive to match the OneNC funding. Local governments follow a formula for this required local match based on the tier designation of the county where the project is located.
BRINGING POWER TO THE PEOPLE
More than 2,000 cities and towns in the United States light up their homes, businesses and streets with public power—electricity that comes from a community-owned and community-operated utility. Public power utilities are like our public schools and libraries: a division of local government, owned by the community, run by boards of local officials accountable to the citizens.
In North Carolina, the energy behind public power is ElectriCities. Our nonprofit membership organization provides administrative, technical, legal and legislative support to more than 70 communities. We focus on people, not profit—and we’re smart about economic development.
Each public power utility is different, of course, reflecting its hometown characteristics and values. Bolstering these hometowns is crucial, and that’s where the ElectriCities Economic Development team excels.
“The work we do runs the gamut of what our members might need,” says Economic Development Manager Brenda Daniels. Daniels oversees a team of three specialists focused on retail and commercial development, target sector recruitment and market research analysis. “We do a lot of foreign investment recruitment,” Daniels says. She travels regularly to meet with key companies on behalf of ElectriCities member communities, allowing the communities’ leaders to stay focused on providing safe, reliable, not-for-profit electricity at a reasonable price. “Right now, we’re really ramping up two sectors: defense and security, and food processing,” Daniels says. In the next quarter, she expects to bring textile, software, manufacturing, plastics, biopharmaceutical and aviation companies to North Carolina public power communities.
With dozens of cities and towns to work with, the ElectriCities Economic Development team stays busy and counts frequent successes. Daniels says a few new company additions include Serioplast, an Italian plastic packaging manufacturer, in Robeson County; Unix Packaging, a California-based manufacturer of branded and private label beverages, in Morganton; and Ames Copper Group, a metals company, in Shelby. And then there’s the Global TransPark, a 2,500-acre multi-modal industrial property in the public power community of Kinston. Convenient and connected in the heart of Eastern North Carolina, the location’s designation as an Opportunity Zone qualifies development projects there for capital-gains tax incentives. Aircraft Solutions, a major aircraft recycling company, plans to invest nearly $100 million and create 475 jobs at its new facility in the TransPark.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg; right now, the ElectriCities Economic Development team is juggling more than 150 new company and project inquiries and almost three dozen active projects. Casting a wide net is part of the strategy, Daniels says. “We do not only consider industrial recruitment. We look at retail opportunities: big-box stores, restaurants, even hotels. We really take the individual member’s needs into consideration to find the right fit.”
Considering members’ needs motivates ElectriCities to streamline and simplify economic development whenever possible. One standout example is the Smart Sites program, known as S2. “Smart Sites is our shovel-ready site qualification program,” Daniels explains. “We go through a very rigorous engineering review on a piece of property before certifying it as a ‘Smart Site.’ Smart Sites are shovel ready for potential new tenants, which saves the company a lot of time and money.” Thanks to a partnership with the state, an ElectriCities S2 certification rolls into North Carolina’s similar shovel-ready program. This reduces paperwork and increases reach for new company recruitment. “Currently, we have 14 certified Smart Sites with a few more in process,” Daniels says, adding that the team has high hopes for the program’s future.
To keep momentum going, ElectriCities Economic Development stays on the move, with a full calendar of conferences, summits, expos and more. This year, that calendar has shifted to the digital sphere, videoconferencing and participating in webinars and other online offerings. Often, member community representatives join in: “if there’s a good fit between the community and the topic, utility leaders will join us to participate in appointments,” Daniels says. These face-to-face opportunities—even digitally—are nearly constant, a tireless effort well worth it. At the end of the day, it’s hard to beat a conversation. People connecting with people pays off. That’s what public power is all about.
ROWAN COUNTY: THE PLACE TO BE AN ORIGINAL
In Rowan County, NC, the road to resiliency began long before COVID-19 struck.
Rocked by the Great Recession and the single largest layoff announcement in North Carolina history, the government, business and community leaders in this Charlotte metro region county were determined to turn things around.
The first order of business was to change Rowan’s reputation as being unfriendly to business. New elected leaders were put into office, and they promptly went to work, cutting red tape, creating a welcoming environment, investing in workforce development and increasing the capacity of the local economic development organization.
“We recognized that we had to become more competitive in order to capture a share of the new growth and investment occurring in the Charlotte region,” said Greg Edds, Chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. ”Not only were we digging out of a hole caused by the recession of 2008-‘09, but we also had to change the perception of the community as a whole,” he said.
And, the efforts have begun to pay off. Two California-based companies, which are suppliers to the Daimler Truck North America (DTNA) plant in Rowan’s Cleveland community, expanded their operations in Salisbury, the county seat. This was followed last year by the largest single new jobs announcement in Rowan County history when Chewy, a distributor of pet products, announced they were building a new 700,000-square-foot fulfillment center that would employ 1,200.
The positive momentum was aided by a branding study conducted in 2016 that helped to identify the perceptions of the county by its residents, people outside of Rowan County, visitors and businesses.
The branding study discovery was that Rowan County’s most significant characteristic is its compelling spirit of individualism that connects residents and visitors alike. People and communities in Rowan County see things slightly their own way, and this is celebrated as a place where people and businesses can truly “be an original,” which became the county brand.
Local organizations, governmental agencies and others quickly embraced the “original” theme, and it ushered in a new spirit of shared purpose and collaboration. A community-wide initiative dubbed “Growing Rowan,” was formed to engage local residents working to make recommendations on Rowan’s branding, business climate, workforce development, entrepreneurship, industry clusters, education and next-generation philanthropy.
BURSTING AT THE SEAMS
Our Relocation Journey As A Mid-Sized Manufacturer
By Eddie Oblen, CEO, WT Shade
The realization that we needed to relocate our long-standing manufacturing operation out of NY raised feelings of uncertainty, apprehension and hope. Uncertainty if we would indeed find greener pastures. Apprehension of not knowing the looming pitfalls. Hope that path to success would be clear. If you’ve ever had the thought or can see yourself being in the position of leading your company through a relocation, these feelings can likely resonate with you.
This is the story of our four-year journey from concept to fruition. It’s the lessons we learned and the hardships we faced. Spoiler alert: it is also the story of success.
It was the summer of 2016, business was booming and we were busting at the seams. You can’t see me, but I’m chuckling because, the company I lead, WT Shade, is a well-recognized leader in the design and manufacturing of roller shades, and well, our products do in fact have seams. But it wasn’t our product that was a concern. We were running out of space in our existing 30,000 SF building, with a staff of about 40. Running out of space because business is going well is a good problem to have, but it also brought us to a crossroads.
In addition to needing a bigger facility, I also knew that the cost of doing business in NY was sky high, especially real estate and labor rates. We could continue to operate in NY, but, the more I considered it, the less it made sense. But, if we were going to move, where? Also, how would it all come together? Would our best people come with us? These were all questions that immediately came to mind.
Like any CEO, I immediately began doing my own due diligence.
A few things I knew it would be critical for our operations to not only continue, but flourish, are a favorable cost of doing business, a strong airport and interstate connectivity to our customer base. Using those factors, a few contenders come into focus: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas and Richmond.
Knowing that our employees are the heart of our business, I took the preliminary findings back to the management team. What became clear from that conversation is that personal interests for the staff were just as big of a consideration as the business. As an executive we know that retaining talent is critical. Retaining talent during a relocation, is another challenge. Our team expressed a diverse set of interests in what would make a new community the right fit.
Relying on our team as a guide to research the four markets from a lifestyle perspective, the Charlotte region emerged as a front runner, but from a business perspective, I needed to know more.
Knowing who to call and getting connected to the right people was an important next step in the process. The management team and I had completed our own research, but to make the move, we needed the expertise of others to help make the decision clear. Our first call was to JLL in NY, which connected us with JLL in the Charlotte area. JLL had been representing the building we leased in NY, so, it was a natural call for us to make. They helped us find a set of buildings in the Charlotte region that met our criteria. They also recommended that we speak with the regional economic development team at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (CRBA).
The CRBA provided us with timely information and the right connections, as well as market insights that gave us confidence. Because the CRBA helps companies like WT Shade relocate or expand on an ongoing basis, they were able to provide experienced people to ask questions and to get a response, focused on the needs of our company.
We learned that Charlotte has the great airport we need, the sixth-busiest airport in the country at the time. We knew this meant we could be quickly connected to our customers. As our friends at JLL helped us find a building, we learned that we could lease a newly constructed building much cheaper than a 50+ year old building in NY.
We also found affordability from a lifestyle perspective. In NY many of our folks would work 80-100 hours/week just to survive. Because the cost of living was so much less in Charlotte, they wouldn’t have to put in so much time on the job.
Things seemed to be falling into place, but, a big hurdle to cross was an in-person visit from the management team. During the visit to Charlotte, organized by CRBA, what struck the team is the access to amenities you can get, with an affordable cost of living. Remember the diverse interests the management team had? Strangely, they all felt like they could find something that fit for them in the Charlotte region. After our tour, we felt it was nearly a done deal.
As an anecdote, I grew up on a farm. Having space is important. We found it. I have some employees that want to live in the city in a high rise. They also found it. The truth is, the Charlotte region gives you a little bit of everything.
For me, as a CEO, and for our management team, we had what we needed. Those apprehensions and concerns we had at the beginning of the process had all been resolved. So, we made the move.
We took possession of our building in March 2020. As of late summer 2020, we are operating at about 80 percent capacity. We expect to be at full capacity by year end. Oh, and our employees—they moved with us. We’ve found quite a few locals too. We have been pleasantly overwhelmed with the diverse talent in the area. Plus, we are already getting referrals from some of our best workers for other employees—and we are delighted for that. We landed in an 80,000 SF building, compared to our 30,000 SF building in NY.
We are no longer busting at the seams. But, if business takes us there again, we don’t have to look any farther than the place we now call home. ♦
From this effort was born “Your Rowan,” which was created to promote the positive news about life in Rowan County. This campaign focuses on telling the story about why Rowan County is a great place to live through a website, blog posts, social media, video and public relations. It is important not only in attracting visitors and businesses, but also in helping to improve the positive perceptions of the residents of Rowan County, who, according to the branding study, often had a more negative view of the county than people who live outside of the county.
Rowan County was also among the first to recognize that workforce and talent are the keys to its future economic success.
As home to four colleges, including Catawba College, Hood Theological Seminary, HBCU Livingstone College and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, this community of just over 140,000 residents is well-positioned to be a leader in workforce development.
The County Commission created the “Better Jobs for Better Lives” program to provide funding to assist community members with educational gaps, criminal backgrounds, insufficient wages or part-time work and to improve their skill set to obtain higher quality jobs in the community.
Following this, the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute (NCMI) initiative was conceived in response to employer needs for solving the talent recruitment issue. NCMI provides free, eight-week training leading to a Certified Production Technician certification. Graduates of NCMI are highly sought after by more than 90 participating manufacturing companies.
The Rowan-Salisbury School System (RSSS) has emerged as a leader in digital learning and its experiences and practices are now emulated by other school districts across the country. Under the leadership of Superintendent Lynn Moody, RSSS became the first in the state to be designated a Renewal School District. The designation granted RSSS charter-like flexibility to make its own decisions on everything from the school calendar year to teachers’ allotments to state prescribed testing curriculums. Mark Johnson, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction, has called the Rowan system “pioneers in the education system of tomorrow.”
With the COVID shutdown last spring, Rowan students already had five years of IT experience. Beginning in 2014, all students in grades 3-12 received a device for school and home use. “We have focused on preparing students for a globally-center world that included embracing digital innovation,” Moody said. “When COVID hit, we were ready to make the transition from working and learning at school to working and e-learning at home.”
Moody, along with her colleagues at the four colleges, representatives of county government and the Rowan County Economic Development Commission now meet bi-monthly as the Rowan Education Collaborative to align all of the education efforts, systems and institutions in Rowan County. The group’s goals are to increase the overall educational attainment of residents of all ages in order to improve their qualifications for more and better jobs. This, in turn, leads to greater success in attracting employers with high-skill, high-wage jobs.
Rod Crider, president of the Rowan EDC, oversees the county growth efforts. “Rowan County, without realizing it, has been preparing for COVID-19 for nearly a decade with a more resilient, sustainable economy, and is better positioned than most to rebound quickly and accommodate the opportunities expected in the months ahead,” he said. “Rowan County is a dynamic region in the growing Charlotte metro market. With our central location in North Carolina’s Piedmont region, access to a 1.4 million person labor pool, pro-business environment and quality lifestyle, we offer everything a business needs to be as innovative and prosperous as they can envision it.”
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