EDC: More industrial locations needed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

As Rowan County officials talk about a future land-use plan — or whatever they want to call it — they need to make sure significant areas are identified and protected for industrial development.

So say members of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission.

The EDC met Wednesday at Catawba College for its annual retreat, and members spent considerable time talking about a diminishing amount of industrial tracts and “product” — empty buildings or speculative structures that might fit a prospect’s needs.

In their advisory capacity, the EDC members said they have an obligation to advocate strongly for industrial locations in any future land-use planning.

“I think we have to be involved,” Phil Kirk said. He added that the county must do something quickly, or it might be too late.

Bill Wagoner said tracts of 10-plus acres in some areas of the county are being bought up rapidly for speculative reasons, mostly for residential development.

Rick Hudson said at the minimum the county must look to protect sections of important corridors for industry, or what Wagoner called “capital intensive purposes.”

Often Wednesday, the EDC’s discussion drifted to the potential of the U.S 70 corridor, which is being widened to four lanes between Salisbury and Statesville.

Rowan County Commissioner Jon Barber, who attended the retreat, liked what he heard from the EDC members. He said Rowan has to do something to stimulate the growth of its tax base because it’s fast becoming a bedroom community.

Wagoner said the city of Salisbury has relatively few areas left for industrial uses, meaning that potential future sites will fall under the county government’s jurisdiction.

Even though the county-owned Summit Corporate Center has considerable industrial land available (154 acres), it has lost 110 acres in the past two years, EDC Executive Director Randy Harrell said.

The corporate center is the county’s only remaining state-certified industrial site, if Toyota Racing Development closes the deal as expected on the 89-acre Cline family property off Peach Orchard Road.

The EDC’s Web site lists 41 available industrial sites in all, ranging from 3.4 acres to 377 acres, which is the Platinum Construction site between I-85 and U.S. 29.

Harrell thinks the Platinum site has the best potential for being the county’s next state-certified site — one that would be promoted heavily by the N.C. Department of Commerce. But it will require the I-85/Town Creek sewer line, which is still probably two years away from completion.

The current industrial sites include Whitney Park, which takes in 172 acres; Southmark Commercial Center, which has 47 acres; and Speedway Park, which has 10 tracts of 1 to 10 acres.

The EDC Web site also lists 25 available buildings, ranging in size from 5,000 to 600,000 square feet (the former Cone Mills plant in Salisbury).

As of now, the county has no speculative buildings to show prospects. Harrell posed the question Wednesday: Should the county build one or more speculative buildings to increase its product?

Harrell said he has mixed feelings and knows it would be a hard sell to county officials. But other counties are building speculative structures, and it’s why he brought up the question, Harrell said.

John Casey, a Realtor, said he has had clients out of Charlotte who have outgrown their locations and need buildings now, but the right building hasn’t been available in Rowan.

Kirk said he’s a believer in speculative buildings, just from positive, anecdotal information he has heard in the past.

But Kirk suggested the need for some facts — good or bad — about how speculative buildings have done elsewhere and how long they have been on the market.

One of the most recent speculative buildings in Rowan County — one built by Atlantic American Properties — stayed on the market for about 10 years. Harrell said the building had been overpriced.

EDC members noted that county governments often have an advantage over private builders of speculative structures in terms of interest rates and how long they can site on a building.

Harrell said for many counties speculative buildings are a fall-back proposal because they have nothing else happening in terms of economic development.

Wagoner, formerly of Wagoner Construction, said he has built five speculative buildings in the past “and all have worked.” But private concerns such as his would stop building them if they had to compete with the county, he said.

But private companies would build speculative buildings with incentives from a county, he said, adding there are models that work.

“At this point, there’s no incentive for the private sector to do it, and that’s the problem,” Jack Owens said.

Kirk said he would rather have the private sector building the speculative structures and would support incentives for that to happen.

Harrell said incentives for speculative buildings may be something to originate from the separate Rowan Jobs Initiative, which has been marketing Rowan County to site selection consultants and real estate brokers.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka @salisburypost.com.