Does Rowan County need a speculative building?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
As it has for several years now, conversation among members of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission turned to speculative industrial buildings ó or the lack of them ó in Rowan County.
“I just want a building, I don’t care who builds it,” Phil Kirk, an EDC member, said Wednesday.
Talk surfaced about the need for good building stock when EDC member James Taylor mentioned that 75 percent of the companies looking for a site automatically take a county off their list if it doesn’t have a building to show.
Taylor heard that axiom at a recent workshop on economic development.
The ideal size of a building companies are looking for today averages 100,000 square feet with 25-foot-high ceilings, Taylor learned.
The big gamble ó and it happened with a speculative building in the county-owned Summit Corporate Center in the past ó is that the shell could sit years without a buyer.
“Why should we invest knowing that could happen again?” Rowan County Commissioner Tina Hall, liaison to the EDC, asked.
Robert Van Geons, executive director for the EDC, acknowledged that a speculative building could be classified as “a loss leader.”
“But it gets them in the door,” he said, agreeing with Taylor’s observation that only about 20 percent of prospects visit or make an inquiry based on land only.
But Van Geons said he thinks the EDC has to do several other things first and get them right before reaching the point of seriously looking at speculative buildings, their costs and how they fit into the marketplace.
An overpriced building, for example, can be the same as not having any building at all, Van Geons said. The liability with a speculative building comes from jumping in too soon and not getting it right, he warned.
“We’re not there yet,” he said.
He also thinks the county may have more existing product than it realizes, and the EDC has to make sure it has identified what’s out there before building anything.
It also would be best, Van Geons said, for the private sector to put up speculative buildings, and it first has to be made aware of what’s needed.
Chairman Jeanie Moore said the commission would have to demonstrate to the private sector that the EDC can effectively market a speculative building.
Kirk expressed some frustration that the EDC has “talked about this for two years without getting anything done.”
Van Geons received a consensus from the board Wednesday about approaching county commissioners with a proposal to revamp the EDC’s Web site, which also will be part of marketing the county’s Summit Corporate Center.
Overall, Van Geons wants everything associated with the EDC to have a fresher, uniform look, from logos to property templates.
Van Geons said Summit Corporate Center is being marketed at $39,700 an acre, a price he called “attractive.” Besides the Web site update, which would include Summit Corporate Center, Van Geons looks to revise plans, create park signs and go with a second round of short-term marketing products for the park.
Hall said it has been frustrating for county commissioners to see Summit Corporate Center not being developed. “We’re looking for results, that’s the bottom line,” she said.
Van Geons said the EDC and RowanWorks Web sites, taken separately, are not as effective as they should be. He wants to ask commissioners to OK a total overhaul ó one Web site that will hit visitors with the powerful message that “we are the best place to locate.”
He said the Web site, last updated in 2006, needs to be dynamic, impressive and full of information that site consultants and the brokerage community need in a hurry. It must highlight what the county has and close the deal in a short amount of time, Van Geons said.
Consultants want facts ó quick data “they can go and run with,” Taylor agreed.
Kirk said that the current EDC Web site, while it seemed fine two years ago, now lacks the action it needs. “You would turn somebody off today,” he said.
One thing the EDC wants to emphasize to potential industries is that Rowan County has more people ó 3,705,288 ó within a 60-mile radius than any other place in North Carolina. It’s the best place in North Carolina for access to a workforce, Van Geons said.
In other business Wednesday, the EDC:
– Learned that a Duke Energy site readiness team, which consisted of three Duke consultants, visited the 440-acre “Platinum” industrial site off Peeler Road between Interstate 85 and U.S. 29 Wednesday. The team gives a target analysis of how a site can be best suited for multi-use development.
The process suggests possible development plans, road layouts, how to bring in rail and other considerations. The team’s work, which concludes with “best recommendations” for the property, probably has a value of $15,000 to $20,000, Van Geons estimated, but the EDC is getting an analysis of two sites for a total of $1,000.
– Recognized former EDC officer and board member Raymond Coltrain with a plaque of appreciation and his nameplate from the board table. Coltrain served on the board from 2005-2008.