The coming of a new year is always exciting. With it comes an opportunity to look back at the previous year, and forward to what may lie ahead. We thought it would be valuable to get the perspectives of public power leaders across the state. We asked about economic development in their area: their thoughts on 2014, their outlook for 2015 and the challenges they’ve faced or see on the horizon. This issue, we hear from Rick Howell, City Manager of Shelby.
For business development in your area, how would you sum up 2014?
2014 was a very encouraging year. We had two very nice economic development projects come to fruition. One was a company called Greenheck, a Wisconsin-based company that invested $26 million in a 140,000 square foot facility that began production in September – with plans to hire 177 new employees over the next five years.
A German company called KSM Castings — a manufacturer of aluminum high-pressure die-cast automotive parts for BMW, Volkswagen and others — opened a 150,000 square foot facility, a $45 million investment, with the potential for 189 jobs. In addition, the city began construction on the second shell building in our business park. We finished construction of that in June and we’ve had about 10 visits from clients interested in the building.
The Scruggs Center opened in January of 2014. Visitor tourism is one of the legs of our economic development stool, so we’re excited about that. We’re part of the Blue Ridge Music Trail, and it’s seen quite a bit of traffic for a new museum. And we’ve begun construction on an uptown open-air farmer’s market that will be complete in April of this year – about 8,400 square feet, a very nice facility.
And what do you think 2015 will look like?
2015 has been somewhat slower. We have an expansion for an existing Japanese company, Yutaka – they make components for electric motors that go in automobiles. They’re doing a 40,000 square foot expansion, which is about a $5 million investment.
We’re going to see some good retail development this year. We have a couple new hotels coming. I’m optimistic about it. We’re also going to have a new brewery, Newgrass Brewery, open in June. It’s going to go in an old building downtown.
Are there particular areas where you will focus?
We’re hoping to initiate the first phase of a new soccer complex. It’ll not only be geared toward our Parks and Recreation, but on visitor and tournament travel that we’re hoping to attract. That will be a multi-million dollar facility on approximately 85 acres just north of the city.
Norfolk Southern is abandoning a rail line – a 10-mile segment from the South Carolina line up into the city limits. We’re hoping to make that a rail trail–and a centerpiece of downtown.
Although we wouldn’t turn away a big economic development project, we've focused on smaller employers in the 200-employee range, who’ll invest $20-50 million. We’ve tried to focus on a diversity of products and skill sets. We were a textile town in the 1990s, and after NAFTA we lost our textiles. It was a significant blow. So part of our planning has been to have a very diverse industrial base.
A lot of people overlook entrepreneurs in the economy. We’re working with a group of organizations and individuals to develop an entrepreneurial program that will help us understand the needs of the entrepreneurial community in our county and our city. We want to make it easy for them to achieve what they’re trying to achieve. That’s going to be a focus and we’re working with a consultant that will help us go through the certified entrepreneurial community process. In Shelby, we know that small businesses, entrepreneurs in particular, have a lot to bring to the table, like job creation. This will help us market ourselves to younger people. They can live anywhere, and maybe through technology, they can have their business anywhere.
What challenges will you face? What opportunities? How will you take on those challenges and opportunities?
One of our challenges, and it’s a statewide challenge, is economic development incentives. We’re hoping our General Assembly will come to the table with a strong package of incentives. That uncertainty will hurt our ability to attract business and industry.
In Shelby, one of the things we have to do is brand and market ourselves – to get the message out that we’re a community to be reckoned with and a place where people would want to live. There are lots of opportunities to market ourselves: our business park, the Scruggs Center, the Don Gibson Theater, the new brewery, our restaurants, the new farmer’s market and the rail trail.
I think we’re a community that has done a good job of collaborating with each other and forming partnerships and recognizing that we all will rise and fall together. We know how to work together, and people have been able to put aside their egos and work together toward the greater good of the community.