EDC’s main focus now on the need for industrial buildings

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 14, 2013

SALISBURY — Economic developers will focus on the county’s lack of available industrial buildings as a top priority this year.
Board members for RowanWorks Economic Development Commission agreed during their annual retreat this past week to form a work group to study the building issue and come up with possible solutions.
Earlier this year, the economic development services team for the Charlotte Regional Partnership told Rowan leaders that the county’s biggest obstacle to attracting new industry is the lack of for-sale industrial buildings.
While the entire region has a lack of available class A property because the private sector stopped construction during the recession, the shortage of buildings is especially noticeable in Rowan, where 1 million square feet of industrial space was sold or leased in the past 12 months, RowanWorks Executive Director Robert Van Geons said.
Van Geons said he’s had to pass on a dozen requests for proposals in the past month because the companies looking to relocate or expand wanted to buy, not build.
“We don’t have the property,” he said.
The only freestanding, available building larger than 20,000 square feet in the county is the Coca-Cola building on South Main Street in Salisbury, Van Geons said. The former Cone Mills plant has several tenants, he said.
To meet the need, some communities are constructing large, vacant industrial buildings to lure companies. Statesville recently put up a speculative building and landed a manufacturer.
Rowan County Commission Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said the EDC should not count on the county to fix the problem.
“We will not build a spec building,” Pierce said during the retreat.
County Commissioner Chad Mitchell also has expressed doubt about a publicly funded spec building, saying in February the county does not have a high tolerance for risk. The last time Rowan constructed a spec building in Summit Corporate Center, it took years to sell, he said.
Rowan still has plenty of vacant space in Summit to locate a spec building.
EDC board member Jim Greene said the community needs to get the word out to developers and contractors that Rowan is getting calls from potential new companies but has no buildings left.
“We need to get the word to folks who have the resources to build a shell,” Greene said. “They need to know how much interest there is month to month.”
Board member Dr. Carol Spalding suggested the EDC host a seminar with area developers to detail the types of industry looking for a home in Rowan and what kind of buildings companies desire.
“The timing has been bad for something like this, but I think maybe it’s turned,” Spalding said.
She suggested investigating whether the N.C. Department of Commerce or Gov. Pat McCrory, who graduated from Catawba College and has friends in the area, could help identify loans or grants to help pay for a spec building in Rowan.
Chairman Pete Teague said the EDC needs to let developers know specifically what prospective companies want in a building. Teague suggested creating the work group and mentioned including the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce in the effort.
New Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Spalding attended the retreat.
Van Geons said four existing industries in Rowan have contacted the EDC about expanding. While they are all considering new construction or adding on to their existing facilities, Van Geons said Rowan runs the risk of losing them if the companies decide they would rather buy a standing building.
“When we have no product for them, they start looking elsewhere,” he said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.