EDC chief, N.C. commerce official meet

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
When you’re in economic development and you have a chance to eat lunch with the new N.C. commerce secretary, you don’t pass it up.
Robert Van Geons, executive director of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, jumped at the chance Wednesday, sharing lunch with Commerce Secretary J. Keith Crisco and a handful of other economic developers.
He came away impressed with Crisco, whom he described as “a very business-minded, strategic thinking leader” for the Department of Commerce.
Crisco is a longtime business and government leader. He was president and chairman of Asheboro Elastics Corp. and an Asheboro city councilman before becoming part of Gov. Bev Perdue’s cabinet.
Crisco grew up on a farm near Aquadale in Stanly County, earned his bachelor’s degree from Pfeiffer University and his master’s from Harvard Business School.
Van Geons said he talked to Crisco about the Interstate 85 bridge over the Yadkin River and issues facing Alcoa in its relicensing bid for the Yadkin Project. Overall, Van Geons said he was impressed with the inter-departmental communications going on in state government at the behest of Perdue.
“It’s really nice to see those people talking and communicating,” he said, noting that different parts of the state face different economic challenges.
The Salisbury-Rowan EDC will be making its annual presentation to the N.C. Department of Commerce in Raleigh Feb. 23.
Despite the tight economy, Van Geons reported several active projects, including two ó Project Sunfish and Project Stick ó that are making applications for possible inducements at the state level. To maintain confidentiality, the EDC gives code names to active industrial recruitment projects.
“It’s (incentive) package time,” Van Geons said of those particular projects.
He defines projects as companies or their agents finding a location of interest in the county and putting Rowan “on the list.” The agent or a company official also has to visit to make it a project.
Nine projects have come into the county in the past month, Van Geons reported, and clients are “walking our sites.” He said he showed the county-owned Summit Corporate Center, which the EDC is marketing, within the past three days.
“A lot of these (potential companies) have Summit in the mix,” Van Geons said.
Incentives will be important in recruiting because companies know counties are hungry for jobs, Van Geons said. In the current economy, many companies are looking to consolidate operations and possibly move to new locations, EDC members noted.
In his report to the board, Van Geons said active projects represent the potential for 1,460 jobs and $123 million in investment. He reported the county had 20 active projects and 11 active inquiries.
The EDC reviewed sobering unemployment figures for the county, which hit 9.3 percent in December.
“Double digits are not far away, and in all likelihood, we’ll be there,” Van Geons said
Some members of the EDC board toured the Rowan County Airport Wednesday before the board’s regular monthly meeting at The Gateway building on East Innes Street.
The EDC would like to do more in encouraging development connected to the county-owned airport. EDC Board member Harold Earnhardt, a retired officer of the N.C. Air National Guard, said “the potential is just enormous” for the airport and the land around it.
“That’s good land, it really is,” Earnhardt said.
The EDC has hired Nicole Arnold as its new project manager and approved a $42,000 annual salary.