It’s a new year, but a persistent problem remains as far as local economic development is concerned: a lack of available buildings and space to accommodate new industry.
“There’s not any one large single building left standing in Mount Airy,” Surry County Economic Development Partnership President Todd Tucker told Mount Airy officials Thursday.
The city’s mayor, Board of Commissioners and other officials were holding an annual two-day planning session that concludes today at a local bank, with economic development among the topics being addressed.
Tucker said during a presentation Thursday afternoon that it is unlikely an entity employing hundreds of people will come here, explaining that the focus now is mostly on those with 10 to 100 workers. But the lack of space is a detriment for any larger ones seriously considering Surry as a location, according to the EDP official.
Based on a 2016 project activity report for the county’s lead industry-recruitment agency, it could not respond to 15 inquiries during the year because of lack of a “product” — either a structure or a site.
Twelve of those 15 prospects wanted a building and three land.
Sixty percent of initial inquiries were looking for an existing building, according to the report, but the pickings are slim in Mount Airy.
“We don’t really have anything left but some small buildings,” said Martin Collins, Mount Airy’s community development coordinator, who also was part of Thursday afternoon’s presentation.
Many of the suitable buildings left vacant by local textile company closings over the past 10 years or so have been occupied by new entities, and in some cases several businesses have taken up that space.
“Most of the new companies we talk to want an existing structure first,” Tucker said, added that about half desire a structure of 100,000 square feet or more.
The EDP official likened this situation to a shoe store that consistently lacks the particular footwear desired by a customer.
“People stop asking — they stop calling, because they know you don’t have it,” he said.
In some cases, local industries wishing to expand have been involved. And while they haven’t left the county because of that issue, those companies also haven’t expanded, Tucker said.
Sites to be developed also are limited, he said, which include about a 30-acre tract in the city-owned Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park, and one of 103 acres in Westwood Industrial Park — of which about 50 acres presently is suitable.
Tucker said most every county is able to market land, pointing out that those with buildings have a competitive advantage.
“But we work with what we’ve got — we’re going to sell what we’ve got,” the EDP official said in assuring Mount Airy officials that the shortage of space is not hampering the efforts of his staff to land companies.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.