City to recruit industry on its own

First Posted: 1/31/2009

The timing could not have been better.
On the same day word came that the head of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) had resigned, Mount Airy officials decided Friday to invest money in their own industrial-recruitment program.
EDP President Robin Rhynes resignation, effective Saturday, become public on Friday. She had spent four years at the helm of the leading economic-development entity in the county.
On the same day during a planning retreat at Bank of America, Mount Airy leaders decided to finally embrace a suggestion by Commissioner Todd Harris, which had been shot down in previous years.
Harris has advocated Mount Airy creating its own industrial-recruitment czar to aggressively market the city to prospective companies something he says hasnt been occurring under the present arrangement.
In the past, I think weve just waited for Raleigh to tell us someone is interested, Harris said of the procedure for hooking up with prospects.
Although Mount Airy is anticipating a budget next fiscal year devoid of major expenditures, officials said Friday they believe the public will support allocating additional funding for the recruitment effort even if it were to mean a slight property-tax hike.
This year, Im going to agree with you, Commissioner David Beal told Harris in voicing support for his plan. Beal acknowledged that he and Harris had butted heads on the issue in the past, but that now he saw the need for the effort.
What that plan entails is having Martin Collins, presently the citys community development director, take on the extra duties of industry recruitment. He would be allocated a budget for travel and other expenses related to the task.
I believe that Martin is a capable, competent person to make it happen, said Beal.
Other commissioners agreed both with Harris proposal and the choice of Collins as the person to put it into effect.
Martins an outstanding representative of Mount Airy, Commissioner Deborah Cochran said of other projects in which he has been involved. Hes an awesome person hed be perfect for this position.
Commissioner Dean Brown, while also applauding Collins, said, I think we ought to get on it right away and start testing the water.
Jon Cawley, another board member, agreed that its time to get serious about trying to bring in new manufacturing jobs to help offset thousands of textile and other positions lost in recent years.
I hope that when we address this issue that we swing to hit, said Cawley, whose hobbies include serving as an assistant baseball coach at Mount Airy High.
Whatever weve been doing has not worked and weve got to change.
City Planning Director Jeff Coutu, in whose department Collins now serves, said Collins already is performing some economic-development tasks in his present role.
Harris said that he had no exact figure in mind for the cost of the program, which will be determined as the municipalitys budget evolves this spring. City Manager Don Brookshire was directed to make provisions for the recruitment effort when he prepares the budget, which will go into effect July 1.

How To Proceed
Officials agreed that more will be involved than simply cutting Collins loose to go knock on doors.
Harris hopes the city will be able to tap into some database or service that will provide leads for Collins to pursue.
Officials also discussed advertising in national publications geared directly toward companies that might be prone to expand to an area such as Surry County. But that could cost thousands, depending on the medium chosen.
Youre talking about big dollars, Mayor Jack Loftis said.
But Cawley countered that the city has been spending big dollars on a lot of other things, and he could think of nothing else the board could do that would directly benefit citizens as much.
We have to think differently, suggested Cawley, who believes the city will need some creative advertising and other approaches to compete with similar efforts by larger cities.
While saying he doesnt know that much about the industrial-recruitment field, Im convinced theres a way to do it.
You dont know whats out there sometimes until you give it a try, Beal concurred.
Brookshire, the city manager, also cautioned that Collins will need to have good sites to show prospects who come here. He cited inadequate vacant industrial buildings around town and the need to make property at the Piedmont Triad West industrial park near Interstate 74 more presentable to clients.
We need to spend some money on getting sites prepared, Brookshire said.
Harris, on the other hand, thinks that Mount Airy has an advantage in being close to major highways, which he said would be attractive for distribution companies. No matter if a product is made in China or Madagascar, Harris said, it still has to be shipped.
He believes the citys proximity to transportation networks will offset the roughness of its available sites.
Im no real estate expert, Harris added, but it is about location, location, location.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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