Troutman Town Council focuses on economic development
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Russ Rogerson, director of the Economic Development Partnership of Iredell County, is excited about the commerical opportunies he sees on the horizon for Troutman.
Speaking at the Town Council retreat on Friday, Rogerson discussed the outlook for economic development in the town and the surrounding area.
With a small industrial park now underway, a 300,000-square-foot warehouse soon to open, and several new businesses, the town is beginning to see the commercial and industrial boom that officials desire.
The area is also experiencing the necessary population growth to feed into these new economic engines.
Rogerson touted Iredell as a unique county that has areas suitable for business headquarters and manufacturing facilities to rural agricultural areas. With the county’s excellent interstate access, he believes distribution, heavy industrial and high-tech businesses are all viable possibilities here.
Rogerson has been working with the council over the past year to fully understand Troutman’s specific economic vision and determine “what’s right for you so we can knock on doors to find things that are a good fit for Troutman and drive investment here.”
He noted that business and commercial activity has been high recently. In the past fiscal year, his organization has fielded 150 inquiries and is currently overseeing 113 active projects. They also have had 35 site visits.
Rogerson explained there is heavy interest in the new 300,000-square-foot facility off Old Murdock Road, commenting that many companies now look for existing buildings first since they can get operational much more quickly.
Businesses now see site ready opportunities as less attractive and competition to attract businesses to these sites is tough since more exist across the state. However, few business-ready buildings are available.
However, Rogerson observed that along with the opportunities coming up Interstate 77, the development also presents some challenges. Low taxes, access, and available land are not the top business priorities now.
Instead, an available highly skilled workforce is now the No. 1 site selection factor, he said.
With a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, North Carolina has fewer workers available than in the past. Rogerson stressed that Troutman cannot be successful in attracting new commercial and industrial development without an available skilled workforce.
Local schools, Mitchell Community College, government officials, and residents must get ready to meet this need. He noted that Lincoln County starts working with its sixth- and seventh-graders to get them excited about high-paying technology careers to show them that options other than college exist.
A committee is currently meeting to add Advanced Manufacturing preparation to the curriculum in Iredell-Statesville Schools and the Mooresville Graded School Distctrict. The group is developing student-oriented training programs to launch next school year to provide a fun, interactive and educational introduction to these lucrative careers.
Rogerson emphasized that all stakeholders must get aggressive on workforce development moving forward to drive the county’s economic engines. His group is also working on a career pathway publication, Blueprint magazine, which targets to sixth- through ninth-graders to introduce them to viable high-tech careers.
Companies are also getting more involved to help solve the local work force problems, which exists across entire country. Companies are starting to invest in creating these pathways. Niagara recently provided a $10,000 grant toward workforce development, and Rogerson is looking at other funding from county and businesses.
Rogerson also praised the recently announced $24 million project in Mooresville that create 302 jobs as well as another $24 million expansion project in Statesville that will add 105 jobs.
Another $50 million project with 302 jobs is also expect to be announced in the next few months, he said.
Rogerson said an attractive tenant is very interested in the new Troutman warehouse facility, with details being worked out. He believes the deal may be finalized in the near future. The 35-foot high building is very attractive for companies that use racking systems, which allow them to cheaply store product up rather than out.
Mayor Teross Young thanked Rogerson for a “great year learning from you. There’s been nothing but good news about how we are starting to work together as a county, which is a testament to your collaboration to bring all the groups together and also sending various projects to include Troutman in the growth that’s occurring."
Young noted the large number of students who go to school in Troutman, especially at the CATS center. He questioned Rogerson how the town can keep more of this trained workforce in Troutman, asking him to think about how to also include Mitchell in that equation.
Rogerson acknowledged the disconnect between school technical programs and businesses. It's impotant to plug schools into programs that target clear career pathways as early as middle school to progress to training at the community college level and then to employment at local companies.
County Commission Chair James Mallory recently challenged all partners (schools, Mitchell, government, and businesses) to develop linkage between all stakeholders and create a strong workforce development program for the county.
Troutman Council member Judy Jablonski emphasized that parental involvement was also needed to help guide students into career paths. Rogerson agreed that jobs are now more technical, requiring programming and complex machine skills. He added that manufacturing “is no longer a dirty industry with non-skilled labor. These jobs now require skilled labor with good salaries.”
Rogerson stressed that teachers, parents, businesses, and students need to see and be educated about the new manufacturing settings to see that “this is a pretty nice environment to work In. That’s the messaging that we’re trying to capture.”
Young is excited that Troutman now has some of the facilities that will attract the educated work force from CATS and Mitchell to jobs in the community, rather than losing them to other areas. Rogerson agreed, noting that channeling population growth into a career academy system will assure businesses that the workforce they need is available in Iredell County.
Rogerson also informed the council that the Mooresville-South Iredell and Statesville Economic Development groups are operating as one organization under his leadership, though both still officially exist separate entities.
The group is currently working through final merger details and the adoption of new bylaws before its official July 1 merger date as the Economic Development Partnership of Iredell County Corporation.
The economic group brings together county, Statesville, Troutman, and Mooresville government officials, including city managers, as well as representatives from the private sector from all over the county.
Rogerson said the unified group will help with confusion in the outside world since “we will now have a single message and organization to promote the county and to sell all of the county’s assets to cast a larger net.”