County EDC launches new strategies to recruit, retain businesses

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Despite the slow economy, the Brunswick County Economic Development Commission has seen an increase in prospects looking to locate in the county and is beefing up its efforts to attract industry here and expand existing businesses.

EDC director Jim Bradshaw said recently the commission is in talks with three industrial prospects including two boatbuilding companies. Two local boat plants, Southport Boat Works and U.S. Marine, recently announced layoffs due to decreasing sales.

“They’re not holding back,” Bradshaw said. “Boatbuilders are still looking to locate here. It looks encouraging.”

The EDC is also working with developers on sites for three future industrial parks in the northern part of the county—at U.S. 74-76 and Malmo Loop Road and two sites in Navassa.

According to Bradshaw, most businesses considering moving into a new county are looking for existing buildings, ranging in size from 10,000 to 200,000 square feet. Those considering building their own plants are seeking land that’s properly zoned with utilities in place. The three potential sites will meet those requirements.

The EDC also wants to build shell buildings for businesses to move into that each one can finish the way they need.

In the past, the county has targeted plastics, shipbuilding and warehouses, but the EDC is also looking at lighter industries.

“We’re interested in anything that isn’t hazardous,” Bradshaw said.

Retail centers fit that bill, and Bradshaw says he is always recruiting retailers as well as industry. Developers have visited the county to scope out spots for a new town center similar to Mayfair in Wilmington but on a smaller scale, he said

If the EDC is able to locate a site for a town center this year, it will be a good three or four years before it’s built, Bradshaw explained.

Recruiting prospective businesses is not something that happens overnight. The EDC’s marketing committee has put together a strategy to convince industry executives to give the county a try.

It includes a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the quality of life, job training, sites and buildings, proximity to the state port and financial incentives. The EDC also uses its Web site, direct mail and limited, targeted advertising to lure potential customers.

In addition to its recruiting work, the EDC also supports existing businesses looking to expand.

An existing industries team consisting of Bradshaw, Velva Jenkins from Brunswick Community College, Eli Smith from the Employment Security Commission and Marty Butler from the state Department of Commerce visit businesses in Brunswick County to find out what resources they need.

“Four existing industries are planning expansion,” Bradshaw said. “They appreciate the fact that we’re there for them.”

He said although new industries moving in often receive a lot of publicity, most jobs in a county are the result of expansions.

Jenkins, BCC’s dean of continuing education and workforce development, said the team approach is a great way to serve local industry.

Based on her meetings with industry officials, the college customizes needed training for the businesses and can also provide access to grants for tuition.

“I let them know about the opportunities the college has for training and development of employees,” Jenkins explained. “Sometimes it can be developing a course,” either at the college or on the job site.

“We help them locate resources to do whatever it takes to stabilize their business,” she said.

For example, when U.S. Marine took over Rampage Yachts in Leland, some Rampage employees stayed on and received training from BCC on the U.S. Marine process.

Jenkins said the team found a high number of Hispanic workers at another facility and brought in an English as a second language (ESL) course to help with the language barrier.

Other companies have benefited from science and math courses for employees, Jenkins said.

The EDC has also formed other committees including an entrepreneurship committee to assist would-be entrepreneurs with business plans and financing and a bankers’ committee to help provide better financing options for business owners.

Bradshaw said the commission wants to make it easier for developers looking to move into Brunswick County and is working on a manual on how to navigate the county system.

The manual outlines the process a developer must go through to get approval for a project including going through the planning department, public utilities, environmental health, central permitting and building inspections.

For more information on the Brunswick County EDC, contact Bradshaw at 253-4429.

sarah shew wilson is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or swilson@brunswickbeacon.com.