07/01/07 — Alliance starts northern Wayne study

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Alliance starts northern Wayne study

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 1, 2007 2:02 AM

At the Wayne County Development Alliance, it's the summer of the study.

Faced with a bit of a slowdown in inquiries after AAR Manufacturing's announcement last year that it would be moving into the county's last shell building in the ParkEast Industrial Park, Development Alliance presi-dent Joanna Thompson said the board of directors decided to go ahead and jump on several much-needed projects this year.

Heading that list is the Northern Wayne Initiative, which began in April.

A comprehensive assessment of the economic development viability in northern Wayne County, it includes the towns of Eureka, Fremont, Pikeville and the surrounding areas. With the legwork already completed by Sanford, Holshouser Busi-ness Development Group of Cary, the study's results are expected to be available by the end of the summer.

It was a project that not only had been on the Alliance's radar since the new U.S. 117 bypass was completed in early 2006, but one the administrations of the three towns had sought as well.

"The leadership in northern Wayne has been very pro-active about this," Ms. Thompson said.

The results will include an objective analysis of the region's land, infrastructure and workforce by the third-party consultant group. Also incorporated will be the opinions, concerns and goals of town administrators, elected officials and community leaders, as well as the results of a mail survey.

But Ms. Thompson cautioned, the survey is just a first step and the results might say that the region's prospects for large growth are still limited, despite the new bypass.

"That's something that opens up the area, but it's not a magic bullet," she said. "Economic development means a lot of things to a lot of people. In northern Wayne County, they're not likely to get an AAR, but economic development doesn't mean just industry. A convenience store is economic development, too.

"This will let the towns know here's where they are, here's where they'd like to be and here's realistically what they can support. This will give them a road map."

In addition, the Alliance also is preparing to undertake a review of its 2001 industrial site study. This time, Greenfield Associates of Williamston will be paying close attention to that same northern end.

"Since that last study was done, there has been so much that has changed," Ms. Thompson said. "It's not like you say here's a site and it's done for all time, you're affected by all these outside influences. We've done a lot in Mount Olive, and we just want to make sure we look at both ends of the county."

The biggest differences, she explained, will be the effects the U.S. 117 bypass and FEMA's new flood maps, which were released in December 2005 and included several new areas of the county -- including the 70-acre McArthur site -- in the 100- and 500-year flood plains.

The goal of the new study is to identify as many feasible sites as possible. Greenfield is a consultant company comprised of former site selectors for Fortune 500 companies.

"They look at it from a client's perspective," Ms. Thompson said. "Even I, as an economic development professional, might have a biased view of what would be a good site around Wayne County. They know what to look for."

When trying to identify possible industrial park sites, she explained, there are a lot of factors that go into it.

"Access and infrastructure, that's one and two," she said. "The next thing is, you ideally want to try to have as few property owners as possible."

From there, she continued, sites need at least 50 contiguous acres and preferably between 100 and 500. Other considerations, such as soil types and land drainage also have to be taken into account.

But, Ms. Thompson said, the Development Alliance isn't waiting on a new industrial park to start thinking about building a new shell building. They are already pushing ahead in a new direction and have begun taking proposals for the creation of a virtual shell building.

A relatively new concept, a virtual shell building means that all the site prep work -- the cutting and filling, the grading and the installation of drainage and runoff mitigation systems -- is done, right up to the actual pouring of the floor.

Then, the building plans are loaded into a computer program, and a three-dimensional model is produced, allowing potential clients all the benefits of walking through the shell, as well as the ability to do some limited customization.

"Having a shell building in your community is probably one of the best tools to attract growth. In a perfect world, the minute we sold a shell building, the next day we'd start building another one, but this will take us halfway there. It's meant to keep us in the game and keep us competitive," Ms. Thompson explained.

Now, the next step, she continued, is for the Development Alliance to identify where it wants to place its next shell building and then find funding for the project.

"This is a fairly new concept, but it's something we intend to pursue," she said. "It's something we're hoping will be an attractive feature."