By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
Monday, March 25, 2013 —
In some ways, what Stanly County has asked Paul Stratos and Krista Bowers to do could easily be a “mission: impossible.”
Not many would take a job to bring jobs and industry to a county that does not have easy access to the interstate, has too few existing buildings available and is in need of a county-wide infrastructure update.
However, the county’s economic team says the most important thing now to help local economic development is to “stay in the game.”
The economic development branch of county government often takes the first blows of criticism because what it does is not often available for public access and its success is many times more measureable in centimeters than yards.
But Stratos remains optimistic that despite any obstacles built in to drawing businesses to the county, those can be overcome by all of the positive aspects that can be offered.
“We work on improving the business environment in Stanly County by helping make sure the infrastructure and services are there to help existing businesses grow and to attract new jobs investment to Stanly County,” Stratos said in describing what their jobs are about.
The means to that end can be complicated.
“We make sure that the information we have on existing sites and buildings is available to our ‘allies’ — those agencies who assist in marketing the county — to make sure the people that our prospects go to for information about locating in the state have information about what Stanly County has to offer,” Stratos said.
He said they also work to make sure the infrastructure required to meet the needs of those prospective businesses are available when they get here.
“We don’t want a situation where we have ‘but for sewer access,’ ‘but for telecommunicatons access’ those companies would have come,” he said.
“We want to be able to answer in the affirmative in their needs for infrastructure.”
Stratos said that helping existing businesses is also a vital part of the EDC mission.
“We help with infrastructure needs, incentive opportunities, services to state and local organizations like community college worker training programs, so they can grow their business in Stanly County,” he said.
Stratos said the EDC has been “too reactive” dealing with those businesses already established here.
“We are hopeful we can add an existing industry person to the staff,” he said.
“We are one of two counties in the region that do not have one.”
Stratos said with the economy giving signs of picking Stratos said with the economy giving signs of picking up, existing companies are moving forward with expansions.
“They are moving forward with their plans and we need to be more pro-active in helping them,” he said.
He said growing entrepreneurial enterprises is a big part of local economic development.
“I think the community college with its small business center has a good resource there for small business start ups to find resources,” he said.
Stratos said every business’ needs are different.
“We have the workforce development needs covered well, our sites are well served, but not always in the areas we want them to be,” he said.
“We need to develop additional sites.”
In recruiting new businesses, he said there is a lack of inventory, or existing buildings that are easily modified to the needs of interested industries.
“That reduces the number of opportunities we can get in front of,” Stratos said.
“You have to have something to offer, and we’re going to have to find a way to get someone to put up additional building to market in the county. We’re trying to find out how to do that now.”
He said there is a large project the EDC has been working with since 2011.
“I think that is moving forward, and hopefully we will know whether they are coming to Stanly County,” Stratos said.
“I believe it looks very promising.”
He said there has been a slight increase in interest over the last few weeks, but what is available does not meet the needs requested.
“Long term, the building issue won’t be as big of an issue because the products in the region will get absorbed and companies will be forced at looking at ‘build-to-suit’ sites,” he said.
“Stanly County really is an attractive choice for businesses.
“I know from being in Charlotte in the construction industry, there isn’t that much industrial land available.”
He said there are manufacturers looking to be in the Charlotte market, but not in Charlotte proper.
“We want to make sure they look at Stanly County,” Stratos said.
“That’s the focus of our efforts.”
He also explained the need for trust and confidentiality when talking with prospects.
“It is very competitive,” Stratos said.
“A company may not want where they currently are to know they are looking to move and they may not even want employees to know. If we were to break that trust, we would not have a positive reputation as a work partner and it hurts our ability to talk to new businesses.”
Stratos said he understands judging the success of the EDC is not an easy one.
“The question I would have is, where would we be if we didn’t participate and then focus on these issues?” Stratos said.
He said the county is still not where it needs to be in the current competitive environment.
“We’re competing against other counties in our own region that have done a good job of developing their assets and getting product to market and supporting it with taxpayer money,” he said.
“If we didn’t do anything, what would we have then? There should be a way to figure the success and those ways could be debated. We do track the opportunities we have and the jobs and investments they represent and we have competed for.
“We can judge the hits and at-bats, but if we didn’t engage in this activity, we would have to do it at one point or another.
“It would end up being a crisis that forces us to be involved. Instead of having a crisis, isn’t it better to be pro-active and compete as best we can with the communities that surround us. We have a lot to offer. We need to market it and if we don’t, no one is going to know about it. We have to be in the game.”