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Leaders expect improving local economy in 2014

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

Once known for its strong textile and furniture industries, Lincoln County has transformed its business climate over the years, adapting to accommodate the diverse global economy. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, six years have passed since the United States entered its severe recession, and with the recent economic uptick, more and more businesses are expressing a renewed interest in expanding their companies. With the first month of 2014 coming to a close, several community leaders predict Lincoln County will be among the locations experiencing an increasingly successful business climate.
Having worked at the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce for the past 28 years, Chamber President Ken Kindley has witnessed several changes to the area.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes to Lincolnton and Lincoln County,” Kindley said. “I’ve seen a lot of new businesses come in, and two new highways have opened up and provided more avenues for economic development, including retail, commercial and industrial development. In the last 25 years, we’ve industrialized our community more, in so far as doing it in a more diversified way. Back in 1986, 47 percent of our manufacturing and labor force in textiles and furniture. Now, it’s more diversified. Textiles and furniture has come up on hard times, although we have still some strong textile companies here.”
Kindley explained that in the last 15 years, he has seen an influx of new industry come to the area.
“Lincoln Economic Development Association has brought a lot of diversified industry in from across the country…and our industries represent 10 different foreign countries as well,” Kindley said.
While LEDA focuses its work on recruiting industries to the county, the Chamber focuses more on retail and commercial ventures.
As a Lincoln County native, County Commissioner Alex Patton has also witnessed the county’s transformation over the years.
“Growing up in Lincoln County meant most likely that you worked in textiles or furniture,” Patton said. “That was the bulk of the jobs when I was young. Technology and the world economy changed that forever. Now in Lincoln County, a multitude of industries exist from all over the world. They are diverse and limit the damage when one sector has problems.”
Kindley feels that the business climate has continued to flourish over the past year.
“2013 was, I thought, a little bit stronger for a lot of businesses,” he said. “Some were still slower than they had expected. We pushed really hard and worked with Charter Communications to produce three different videos that we ran through March until about October, promoting ‘Shop Lincoln County,’ to shop local…we wanted to emphasize and create an awareness that you need to shop local in order to keep businesses here in the future. That way, the tax dollars go to support Lincoln County versus shopping out of town.”
He explained the improving business climate is evident in the Chamber’s many welcoming events for new businesses.
“There are a lot of small businesses opening up,” Kindley said. “We did 30 grand openings in 2013…we’ve been doing about 30-35 [openings annually] over the past couple of years. So, the number is staying pretty steady there.”
Kindley stated that that number only represents the number of new businesses in the county that have joined the Chamber, not necessarily the total number of new businesses for the county. He added that recent improvements at the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport are also expected to improve the local business climate.
“Through a grant…we were able to extend the sewer system out to the airport, which is now completed and will allow some new industrial development out there at the airport,” Kindley said. “We feel like this is a really good area that can attract additional industry. People like to be close to an airport. It’s a reliever airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and with a new glide slope being installed out there — investing dollars into something like that will enable industries that have corporate planes to fly in and out in any kind of weather. Before, they could only fly in and out in extremely good weather.”
Patton shared similar thoughts when he reflected on the county’s business climate in 2013.
“Overall, the business climate was good in Lincoln County in 2013,” Patton said. “It could always be better, but several industries expanded. Our economy is improving slowly and has begun to recover from the economic crisis.”
Patton believes the 2014 business climate for the county will prove to be a successful and productive one.
“The future is bright for Lincoln County,” he said. “We have new industries looking at us as a potential home, and we should be able to land some of these. Our unemployment rate, while still not good, continues to get better, and 2014 should see continued improvement.”
Patton said one of the biggest variables regarding the future business climate is the closure of Actavis.
“The big question is what will happen to Actavis, and will it actually close?” Patton said. “That will be a big hit if it happens. Those are good paying jobs that will be difficult to replace.”
The Times-News reported last November that Actavis made the closure announcement 18 months before the first employees would be laid off to ensure adequate notice.
Company spokesman Charlie Mayr stated that the plant’s prescription drug production would be transferred to the company’s state-of-the-art Salt Lake City, Utah facility, while the over-the-counter medications produced there would be taken over by third-party factors.
“We must continue to recruit heavily for new industry, which is why we are building a Shell building in the Airlie Business Park,” Patton said. “It has always been my goal to have as many people working within our own county and not commuting. Our Lincoln County Industrial Park continues to be a shining star in North Carolina, and we hope to duplicate that success in the Airlie Park in East Lincoln.”
Kindley agreed that a bright future is indeed in store for Lincoln County.
“We’re expecting continued growth,” he said. “As of late, it looks like things are getting better, as far as the unemployment rate. As of November, our unemployment rate is down to 7.6 percent, which is down from last year’s peak of 9.5 percent, so it looks like it’s heading the right way. We feel like that with the unemployment rate going down, it’s a sign that the economy is getting stronger. We expect new businesses to open up in the retail and commercial areas, and we know we have industrial prospects.”

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