ASHE COUNTY-It’s early on in the process – and nothing’s been decided yet – but at least two companies could be interested in the old Tigra building in West Jefferson.
That news comes from Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick and the county’s Director of Economic Development Cathy Barr.
Yearick said last week securing users for that vacant space is the county’s most important economic development priority.
“But absolutely nothing is set in stone with that building at this point,” Barr said. “We’re hopeful we’ll get something negotiated, but right now that’s off in the future.”
Barr sat down with the Jefferson Post to discuss Tigra, her role as the county’s economic development point person and why she’ll fight so hard for a local state certified site. Here’s what you need to know.
Double edged sword
The Tigra Building is a twelve year-old, 25,000 sq. feet stand-alone manufacturing facility located off US Highway 221 in West Jefferson. The building sits on just less than 15 acres of land, which includes a green space for future expansion and a parking lot containing 50 spaces and ample room for the maneuvering of trucks. Barr said securing a user for the building would be a big deal for the county for two reasons. The company that takes it over would add more local jobs, but it would also leave the county in a bit of a bind in another way.
Down to two
If the Tigra building is leased or sold, Barr will have only the old Hanes property in Jefferson to market. That’s a tough task because the building will need costly infrastructure upgrades to get it ready for a modern manufacturer. That can be offset, in part, with building upfit grants, Barr said, but the building’s ceilings are also problematically low which could reduce the property’s appeal to manufacturers with large equipment.
That’s the percentage of relocating companies that move into an already constructed space. Less than 15 percent of companies build new factories when they move, according to Barr. That’s due mainly to the expense. “Why build something for $10s or $100s of dollars per square foot when you might be able to slide in and buy something ready made for $10-15 per square foot,” Barr said.
And the competition is stiff
There are more than 2,500 possible relocation sites for companies scattered across the state. That’s something to consider before Ashe County considers possibly building an industrial park, shell building or even investing in creating a certified site. “This process doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Yearick said. “That’s why we’ve got to have our ducks in a row and get somebody in the Tigra building before we turn our attention to something like a certified site.”
But Barr has her own economic development wish list
And a state is at the top of the list. Since 2001, North Carolina has provided a list of “shovel ready” sites that have undergone a rigorous state approval process. The idea is to make relocation easier on companies by ensuring companies know exactly what they’re buying.
The path to a certified site is long
Sites have to meet 31 separate pre-requisites, including things like environmental audits and geo-technical studies, topographical analysis, aerial photography and the an outline of the availability of public utilities and the quality of industrial power. “It’s worth it in the end, but every step has to be met for certification, and it’s a long process,” Barr said.
A happy medium
Barr said that’s likely the best way to view a certified site. “You can build something that gets you in the game with companies without going to the expense that comes with building something like a shell building,” Barr said. “A lot of companies take advantage of shell buildings, but I think every economic developer and county official across the state has also heard horror stories about shell buildings that just sit there for years with no interest.”
In the meantime
Barr said she’s focused on meeting the needs of Ashe County’s existing businesses. The trick, she said, is to become a clearinghouse of information businesses can use to improve their situations. She’s helped Jefferson-based American Emergency Vehicles secure a $500,000 building reuse, for instance, to improve the former Gates building in Jefferson before the company moves in.
Focusing on the positives
And while Barr doesn’t have much in the way of marketable properties to sell at the moment, she is focused on trumpeting the positive points of Ashe County to anyone who will listen. “Chief among them is the fact that we’ve got one of the finest workforces in the nation,” Barr said. “Our employee turnover is low, and percentage wise the dollar-for-dollar value employers get for Ashe County people – you can’t beat it. And it’s my job to make as many people understand that as I can.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.