DOBSON — An economic development official said Surry County isn’t targeting large employers which might offer hundreds of jobs.
The issue with bringing such a company to Surry County would be providing the local workforce the company might need, said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry Economic Development Partnership, to the county Board of Commissioners Monday evening.
“We target companies which offer between 20 and 50 jobs,” explained Tucker. “I don’t think we could supply a workforce for a company that brings in hundreds of jobs. We have a lack of an available skilled workforce.”
“Most people can’t pass the three tests,” remarked Tucker. “Those are the drug test, the felony test and the show-up-to-work-three-days-in-a-row test.”
Tucker noted much of his role is “fitting companies together with employees.”
Though an available workforce is an issue, it’s not the only hurdle for the county, according to Tucker.
“We aren’t even going to the dance right now,” said Tucker in explaining another issue hindering the county’s ability to compete.
Companies want to start making money as quickly as possible when they relocate or open a new location, said Tucker. That’s why a lack of available buildings in which a company could immediately start work is an issue when Tucker and other officials bring companies to the negotiation table.
Of the 55 serious inquiries Tucker’s department received last year, the official said 92 percent wanted an existing building. 54 percent of those wanted an existing building of at least 100,000 square feet.
“Do you really believe if we build it (a building) they will come?” asked Commissioner Van Tucker.
“It’s not a silver bullet, but it puts us on the playing field,” answered Tucker.
Tucker indicated he may soon be coming to the county to ask officials to take the lead on building shell structures to offer to would-be Surry County companies. However, the county would look for “partners” in the endeavor, with no one entity footing the bill.
“Last year wasn’t what I would call hitting home runs,” said Tucker in a more general portion of his presentation.
Tucker said there were 128 jobs which were either created or saved in 2015. Companies made $5.2 million in new investments.
He said a few projects led the way in the area of economic development, including the creation of jobs and expansion projects at Johnson Granite, SouthData, Deleware Quarries, A Plus Carports and Steel Buildings and Structures Inc.
The year wasn’t all positive, according to Tucker. Ottenweller laid off 40 employees at the company’s Mount Airy site and L.S. Sterratt will soon terminate 50 employees at its Mount Airy location.
Commissioner Larry Phillips noted the Starrett jobs are headed overseas — to Brazil.
Tucker noted 10 “qualified candidates” visited the county to consider relocating or starting a business.
He also stated Surry County is focusing its attempts on attracting companies which offer jobs in the “light manufacturing” category.
The economic development official told the board last year wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t bad.
“No home runs, but we hit some singles and doubles.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.