EDC director: County needs land for industry

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Carter County Economic Developer Haynes Elliott outlined the status of industry in the county Monday evening during a workshop with members of the Carter County Commission.
   According to Elliott, one of the key stumbling blocks between the county and industrial development is land. Carter County has 10 acres of developable land, five acres of which has been set aside for development of a regional water source through the Watauga River Regional Water Authority.
   Elliott told the group that Gov. Phil Bredesen now has the regional Economic Development office reviewing their records to see which industries the area has lost and why they lost them. "He wants to know if it's the community's fault or if we've not got enough property, or what," Elliott said.
   Another problem in the development of industry is the concessions communities must make to lure industry, according to Elliott, who said that when he first took over as director, a Massachusetts' company was looking at settling in Carter County.
   "They really liked us. We spent a lot of time, and they were going to buy the spec building that we had up there [at the Watauga Industrial Park]. We offered them the building for $200,000. We had $389,000 in it. We offered to give them the 10 acres of land that went with it and we were going to give it to them in-lieu of taxes, that would save them over 15 years, $1,300,000. That's giving away the store," he said.
   However, the company, which employed 100 people, chose to locate in Clifton Forge, Va., near Roanoke and wrote Elliott a letter apologizing for not coming to Carter County.
   "Here's what they did in Clifton Forge, Va. They gave them 22 acres free; they gave them a $500,000 cash grant from the state, and a $250,000 grant. They paid the principal and interest on $1.1 million to construct the building, and they gave them $100,000 to move. ... That's how competitive it is," he said.
   Elliott said the county has several prospects for the Frank Schaffer Publications building. The owners of the Schaffer building pay $1,000 per year to the county in lieu of taxes.
   "Frank Schaffer was going to employ 125 people, but they haven't. So if we really wanted to get technical, we could get after them. I don't think it would be wise. I think the main thing is to get somebody who employs people in there, because we ain't got any money in it," Elliott said.
   Commissioner Al Meehan asked, "When you say 'get after them,' what does that mean?"
   "That means that you go and say, 'We think you ought to pay taxes because you're not employing people like you said you would,' " Elliott responded.
   Commissioner Chuck Culler asked whether anybody has started a recommendation or a proposal to present to the commission related to the purchase of property.
   County Executive Dale Fair told the group, "We've isolated eight or nine pieces of property and we've narrowed it down to two. One of the main things we're looking at is not only acquisition of land and development of land, but whether it has existing infrastructure, because we're going to have to have that too. The two that are talking to us have infrastructure in place."
   Elliott said the state will not give a community money to buy land. "The county will have to bite the bullet and buy land," he said.
   Another commissioner asked how Carter County looks compared to surrounding counties in terms of future industrial development.
   "It all gets back to one thing - land," Elliott said. "I don't know what the answer is. But I know that we haven't got any land. We don't have any place that we've been looking at that's suitable, that's either near water or sewer, or that you can put water and sewer."
   Fair said economic development takes more than just one person or a committee. "Economic development is not just creating manufacturing. It's retail; it's agriculture; it's health care. You can name all kinds.
   "If you hear of someone that's got an uncle that's looking at leaving Spokane, Wash., and they're looking for a new site, you need to pass along those leads. We might turn 100 leads down before we get one that works out. But that's where, as a community, we can help out."