Integro president defends EDC, says commissioners drive away business

SALISBURY — The president of Integro Technologies says Rowan County commissioners rejected his proposal last year to buy land in the county’s business park and are running off potential employers.

“If the county commissioners would like to politically blame someone for the lack of growth or retention, they do not have to look far,” Integro President Shawn Campion said.

Campion contacted the Post last week to defend Robert Van Geons, executive director of RowanWorks who was criticized by two commissioners for his agency’s efforts to recruit and develop business.

One of those commissioners, Vice Chairman Craig Pierce, refuted remarks that the county’s politics were hurting economic development and said Campion should be happy with Van Geons after receiving an incentive package on South Main Street.

Integro submitted a proposal to county commissioners through RowanWorks Economic Development in November 2012 to purchase 8.7 acres in Summit Corporate Center at a reduced rate of $104,000 with no other incentives, Campion said. The company’s total investment including real estate, construction, supporting infrastructure and personnel would have been between $3 million and $3.5 million, he said.

Campion committed to constructing two buildings within a three-year period, including an initial 50,000-square-foot building in 2013, he said.

“The proposal was rejected by the county commissioners,” Campion said. “We were not granted the opportunity to present our proposal.”

Campion wanted to buy the land for roughly $12,000 an acre, or about half the tax value. Van Geons said during a closed session in 2012, commissioners by consensus rejected the offer as too low and said they wanted about $20,000 per acre.

Van Geons said Campion did not respond to the county’s counter-offer. The business park remains mostly vacant.

“I believe our offer was fair, based on the lack of activity at the business park and our commitment to build two structures,” Campion told the Post.

Instead, Integro made plans to relocate to Mocksville, Mooresville or Concord, Campion said. But because of efforts by Van Geons and the city of Salisbury, he said, the company is now building a $3.2 million headquarters containing the Salisbury Business Center in downtown Salisbury.

Integro will receive a seven-year tax rebate from the city worth about $163,000. Integro employs about 25 people who earn on average double the area’s median income.

Campion said Van Geons and RowanWorks worked for three years to keep Integro in Rowan.

“During this three-year period leading up to and after our proposal to purchase and build within Summit Corporate Park, we were never contacted by any Rowan County commissioners,” Campion said.

Last week during a Board of Commissioners meeting, Pierce and Chairman Jim Sides blindsided Van Geons with criticism of his agency, saying he hasn’t done enough to recruit and retain industries.

Pierce said the EDC has done a “terrible job” of retaining businesses and growing companies that survived the recession. Sides said Van Geons is ignoring companies that have been here for years, not returning their phone calls about requests for assistance.

Campion told the Post that commissioners, not the EDC, are to blame for problems recruiting and retaining businesses in Rowan.

“RowanWorks is not the issue,” Campion said.

Potential employers are aware of the political climate in Rowan, he said.

“When major employers or international companies search for new facilities’ locations, they monitor newspapers and mine for social-economic data regarding the community, past and present,” Campion said. “The county commissioners need to lead the community in a progressive manner to attract and retain business and manufacturing facilities.”

Selling land in Summit for half price would have been considered an economic incentive from the county. Campion said Rowan County has a reputation for not granting incentives, which undermines Van Geons’ efforts while competing against aggressive, business-friendly counties in North Carolina and other states.

Campion has been a critic of the county. During a public hearing on the proposed school central office, he said commissioners have blamed the economy for slow business growth in Rowan.

“The economy is recovering, but we’re getting bypassed,” he said. “Everyone around us is growing, and we’re shrinking.”

At least one commissioner agrees.

Jon Barber said his fellow commissioners are hurting Rowan County with regressive policies and public feuding with the city, school board and now EDC.

“What they’re doing is taking the county backwards,” Barber said.

Barber said he would have given Campion the land in Summit for free, considering the lack of activity in the corporate park and the investment Integro was willing to make.

Berating the EDC executive director in public will drive away potential employers, Barber said.

“It hurts us terribly,” he said.

Barber said competing economic developers in other counties can use Rowan’s dysfunction to their advantage, using video from meetings and links to newspaper articles to convince companies to steer clear of Rowan.

“A more civil, public-servant approach to governing will win every time over political dysfunction, and that’s what I feel like we have right now,” Barber said.

Vice Chairman Pierce defended the county’s recent string of legal publicity, saying the county has simply defended itself against the ACLU’s prayer lawsuit and litigation from the local school board.

“When people sue you, if you don’t respond to the lawsuit, you lose automatically,” Pierce said. “You don’t have a chance but to go ahead and defend yourself.”

Pierce said he couldn’t comment on the decision by past commissioners with regards to Integro’s proposal, but said Campion should be happy with Van Geons’ recent efforts to move the company to downtown Salisbury.

“That’s great, but the EDC represents the entire county, not just the city of Salisbury,” he said. “Of course he’s going to do that. He’s happy. But let’s talk about the people in East Spencer that never have an economic incentive brought to them.”

Van Geons said the EDC has recruited the Aldi distribution center and Boral Composites to East Spencer.

On the feud between city and county officials, Pierce said the county hasn’t instigated the fight.

“As far as the suggestion that our political differences between the boards — let me just say this as nicely as I can — there are 10 municipalities in this county, I never hear but from one and that’s Salisbury,” Pierce said. “I don’t hear from the other nine. As far as it hurting business, it looks like to me that if it were something that was oh so wrong, I would be hearing from 10 municipalities and not just one.”

Pierce continued his public criticism of the EDC during an airport advisory board meeting. He told board members the airport was “missing the boat” when it came to the EDC recruiting regional business for the airport.

“The other thing that we would like to see on the commission concerning this is, we would like to see you guys get some recommendations on how the EDC can help you better,” Pierce said. “My time on this board — and Tom and Doc can attest to his — I’ve only seen Mr. Van Geons one time and that was when he was doing signage. From that point, I haven’t really seen him again, and with the dollars that’s being invested into this airport we need to command some of his time to help develop this airport.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264. Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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