County economic development officials, reflecting on a busy 2013, said the year has been full of ups and downs.
According to Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, the year began with bad news but was quickly replaced with some good news.
“I think this year was a steady year as far as economic development,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve had some good things happen, but we had Henredon Furniture close.”
In January, Henredon Furniture, located on Mountain View Road, announced it would be shuttering operations, representing a loss of 134 jobs.
“Fortunately, we were able to follow that up with Shenandoah Furniture coming in and taking some of (Henredon’s) employees and putting them back to work,” Tucker said.
But for Tucker, economic development isn’t only about bringing in the big companies. It’s also about supporting existing businesses, large and small.
“Helping our existing industry is where we spend a lot of our time, and we did a lot of that this year,” he said. “We made over 100 visits to our existing industries and small businesses this year.”
Tucker pointed to the expansion efforts at Ottenweller Co., located on Riverside Drive, as an example.
In July, the steel fabrication operation announced an investment of more than $1.5 million and the creation of about two dozen jobs.
“We helped them expand their facility and put together some new hiring and training programs as well as assisted them with the capital investment in their business,” Tucker said.
Overall, Tucker called 2013 a “steady” year.
“We didn’t have a banner year on the economic development front, but we had a good year,” he said.
The February announcement by household cleaner manufacturer Awesome Products, which is locating in the former Bassett Furniture building on Sheep Farm Road, was also welcome news this year, Tucker said.
“Them taking over a building that had been abandoned for years was some really good news,” he said.
But for Tucker, economic development efforts reflect the turtle approach rather than the hare.
He said it’s hard to say whether the county is better off this year than last.
“That’s a hard question to answer because it’s such an individual thing,” he said. “I think some people may be better off and some not. This economic recovery everyone’s talking about is such a hit and miss thing. I think things are slowly but surely on the mend, maybe not at a great pace but they’re certainly slowly and steadily improving.”
The economic development official said that overall, the announcements made this year represent about 200 new jobs, not counting individual hires by small companies.
And the credit goes to the businesses rather than his office, Tucker said.
“We didn’t create any jobs,” he said. “The companies did.”
Going forward, Tucker said things may be a little more difficult since many of the marketable facilities have been taken off the board.
“For the next couple of years, it’s going to be about product development that we can use to market to new businesses and industry,” he said. “We’ve taken advantage of a lot of the low-hanging fruit projects that we could turn around pretty quickly, and some of the things left will be a little more challenging. We’re going to have to work hard to try to get some of the older buildings, our sites and our workforce ready for new jobs.”
Overall, Tucker said he is proud of the efforts of his office.
“Working through the Henredon closure and helping get some of those people back to work with Shenandoah, that was a great reuse for a building that could have sat empty for quite a while,” he said. “Whenever a company closes in a community and you’re able to follow that up and help people get back on the job quickly, that’s a good thing.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.