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Heath: Factors helping boost activity at EDC
This EDC chart shows inquiry and active projects of the Martinsville-Henry County EDC. Inquiry projects are ones which the EDC has vetted and believes will have a potential project. Active projects are ones in which a representative has visited the area, according to Mark Heath, EDC president/CEO. The chart shows an uptick in activity in recent months despite the fact that summer traditionally is a slow period, Heath said.
The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) has seen an increase in prospects over the past four months, according to EDC President/CEO Mark Heath.
“It’s a number game. We hit bottom about six months ago ... It’s been trending back up” since then, he said.
The EDC’s marketing/recruiting division conducted four existing industry visits in July and worked with 12 active prospects in August, Heath told the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Active prospects are ones who have visited the area, he said later.
By comparison, it worked with four active prospects in February, six each in March and April, five in May, 10 in June and 11 in July, according to EDC information.
Heath attributed the increase in activity to several reasons. Some businesses have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to move or expand, although others remain leery of federal regulations and health care law changes, he said. Yet other businesses have to make decisions about the future to stay in business, he said.
Another factor, Heath said, might be that the area is about to start constructing a new shell building at the Patriot Centre industrial park.
Blair Construction submitted the low bid on the $3.5 million facility, and requests for financing went out Monday, Heath said. He hopes to have a financial deal in place by Sept. 1 “and be on our way.”
That 90,000-square-foot building can be doubled in size if needed. It is slightly smaller than the area’s previous shell building because of the configuration of the lot, Heath said.
The building will have 30- to 32-foot ceilings and will be constructed for a higher-end market in the EDC’s target sectors of aerospace, plastic, food processing, some high-end distribution logistics and other fields, Heath said.
The building will “give us a unique position in the marketplace,” he said, because it will be a high-end building similar to the previous shell buildings done locally. That means there will be a smaller pool of potential buyers than if it constructed a lower-cost metal building, “but the pool will be greater in terms of capital investment. ... The buildings cost more on the front end but maintenance and utility costs are less in the long term.”
The area also is reaping advantages from the construction of the New College Institute building in uptown Martinsville and the alliance of NCI with Patrick Henry Community College on workforce training, Heath said.
When the “formidable team” of NCI Executive Director William Wampler Jr. and PHCC President Angeline Godwin talks to prospective companies and clients about training, “it’s a powerful message. It’s an asset we haven’t had.”
That asset includes the NCI building and equipment for its advanced manufacturing bays, plans for 200 jointly enrolled students and the recently announced partnership between PHCC and Arrington Performance, Heath said. Those things show clients “we’re not blowing smoke,” he added.
Everyone has a different definition of training needed for the 21st century workforce, Heath said. “Everyone is trying to crack that code. The communities that figure it out will have an advantage. We have structure and meat on the bone with hard assets” to show prospective companies.
The area’s existing industries also help sell the area, Heath said. The EDC board has required that its staff work with existing industries as much as on recruiting new ones, he said.
“They (existing companies) have issues. They bring them to us (the EDC team) and we figure out a solution or method to try and help them find a solution. They’re very positive about that,” he said. When he is courting businesses or consultants, “there are people who don’t believe me; they think I’m paid to say that (good things about the area). When they hear it from industry people,” it carries more weight.
It also carries weight when prospects come to the area and see the modern companies working in the Patriot Centre industrial park, Heath said. It shows them the area has the support services and suppliers that industry needs, he said.
“It’s pretty impressive. That says more, when somebody stands here and looks at that, more than I can tell them,” Heath added.
The EDC also is continuing to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain a permit for work at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Park, Heath said. The corps has refused to issue a permit because the park has no end user who can say how the property will be developed, but finding someone who will do that before the site is ready is difficult, he said.
“We continue to work the process with the Corps of Engineers. Our approach is not being adversarial. We are trying to find a path forward,” he added.
Despite all its activities, the EDC has been told it needs to do a better job selling itself.
That was the advice of a consultant who visited a month ago. She had read the EDC’s literature and marketing materials, but “until she saw the (construction of the NCI) building she didn’t believe it,” Heath said.
She suggested, “‘You’ve got great things to sell ... you’re dealing with the issues. You’ve got to tell your story better in real time,’” Heath said.
As a result, the EDC put up a $400 time-lapse camera to film the progress on the NCI building. It will use the video as it markets the area, Heath said, adding that the EDC got several ideas such as that to sell the area.
“If we could be so fortunate in the foreseeable future to find a way through the issue with the corps ... if we can crack that code and this (shell) building comes out of the ground, we think we’ll have some good opportunities” to attract businesses and industries, Heath added.