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County commissioners conduct joint session with LEDA board

 

SARAH LOWERY

Staff Writer

 

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and the executive board of the Lincoln Economic Development Association conducted a special joint meeting Monday night to discuss current projects, incentives and future opportunities for development within the county.

Prior to starting the meeting, Alex Patton, commission chairman, told LEDA Executive Director Barry Matherly that they hate to see him go.

As the Times-News previously reported, it was announced last week that Matherly will be leaving LEDA for a position at the Greater Richmond Partnership in Virginia. He will begin employment there March 1.

“We appreciate what you’ve done for us while in Lincoln County,” Patton added.

Matherly began with a presentation focused primarily on being competitive in project development. He touched quickly on the Lincoln County Industrial Park, saying that, at this point, it is “pretty much tapped out.”

He also updated commissioners on Airlie Business Park in Denver, noting specifically that the North Carolina Department of Transportation is requiring turn lanes to be constructed on Optimist Club Road before any other lots can be sold.

Matherly also talked about two projects he described as “conceptual,” namely the Lincolnton Business Park and the Airport Business Park. He said they are currently just in the planning stages. County Manager George Wood noted that the design for the Airport Business Park is completed.

Matherly also joked that airports are now like golf courses, saying “people want to live near them.”

Crystal Gettys, business development manager for LEDA, presented commissioners with information regarding shell buildings, stressing their importance in economic development.

She cited candy-maker Lucky Country as a company that had used a spec building and said she had to turn down a project last week because there was not a building available, and the company wasn’t interested in waiting. Gettys added that projects want road frontage and visibility and that shell buildings are typically easily filled.

For a 50,000-square-foot shell building, the total cost comes in at $1.6 million, including hard building costs, site development and engineering.

Incentives were also discussed by both groups, particularly in regards to Lincoln County moving from a “Tier 2″ to a “Tier 3″ designation, the latter of which is reserved for the state’s 20 most prosperous counties. As the Times-News reported in December, the new ranking will result in the county receiving less state assistance in providing statewide economic incentives for this year.

“Needless to say, our projects from the state have slowed down,” Gettys said.

Matherly believes that the tiers are based on artificial conditions, with a fixed number of counties for each level. He also said they result in competition not only within the state, but from other states, as well.

“The tiers don’t reflect the true economic conditions,” he noted.

Commissioners also expressed their frustration with the tier rankings, remarking that they hope to bring the issue to the attention of legislators and potentially get rid of them.

Nonetheless, Matherly pointed out that about 80 percent of potential development prospects are generated locally by LEDA’s efforts.

Gettys also said that clients often comment positively on the collaboration between the county and the city of Lincolnton.

“Everyone has the same goal,” she added.

Matherly also said incentives come into play at the end of the process and that you have to have a good place to live and work to attract a project to begin with.

In terms of future grant ideas, a waiver of capacity-development fees, site-preparation incentives and targeted incentives (defined by NAICS codes) were discussed. The current policy in place is the Economic Incentive Grant Policy, with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Incentive Policy in progress.

Matherly and Gettys both noted that surrounding counties are getting “pretty aggressive” in recruiting new prospects.

Wood said his staff can continue to work on the LEED Incentive Program, including getting over a legal hurdle, look into other incentives and, with the commissioners’ approval, move forward with spec buildings for Airlie Business Park, which he noted would help the county “land something quickly” as has happened in the past.

Commissioner Jim Klein said he would like to see the numbers for the spec buildings, with Wood saying a proposal will be brought before commissioners for approval.

Commissioners asked the executive board to come back with a list of the three major priorities, costs included, for future development. Tom Anderson, chairman of LEDA’s board, said their staffs can work together to get this done.

Patton also added that he thinks the two groups should meet on a more regular basis.

 

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