An official at the front of economic expansion efforts in Brunswick County says he’s eyeing a swell on his turf.
While Jim Bradshaw, head of the Brunswick County Economic Development Corporation, admits most of it is limited to interest from growth-ready companies inquiring about available land in the county, he said it’s unusual to have so much of that attention at once.
“We had five (business prospects) contact us last week,” said Bradshaw. “To have five in one week is very unusual.”
That’s especially so given the greater economy’s continued lack of luster and the business community’s feeling of uncertainty regarding expansions and any new regulations that might come down to affect them, Bradshaw said.
The recent calls have come mostly from site consultants scouting good land deals for their industrial clients. The Brunswick County Economic Development Commission (EDC), a board of appointed business leaders and a component of Bradshaw’s same-name corporation, explained the recent goings-on in a post to its Facebook page late last week:
“Industrial prospect activity has picked up dramatically in the past week. We are working on three RFPs (requests for proposals) for potential industrial clients and two additional industrial prospects have requested information on sites.”
EDC said it is working with 13 or more prospects currently. Bradshaw on Tuesday confirmed they’re mostly in the business of metalworking, plastics and distribution, though he could not reveal company names or other details per the sensitive nature of recruitment and negotiations.
“It doesn’t mean any will locate here,” EDC wrote, “and if they do it will take months for them to make a decision but it shows our efforts of getting the word out about our industrial parks is paying off.”
Before November, economic development officials often noted that companies wanting to expand were laying low until they knew the outcomes of the presidential, congressional and state-level elections. Of interest were the possible policy changes or business-impacting regulations new or returning lawmakers might try to impose.
But state legislators, including New Hanover County Republican Rep. Ted Davis, have targeted North Carolina’s corporate income tax for reductions as a way to make the state more attractive to companies seeking to expand. At 6.9 percent, N.C.’s rate is higher than neighboring states’. Legislators have also discussed reducing or wiping out the individual income tax and replacing it all with a broadened sales tax base, including new taxes on services.
If the state eliminated taxes on corporate and individual income altogether, “The total state sales tax rate would have to be raised to 8.75 percent to fully fund current levels of state spending, but the benefit of this option is that North Carolina would be one of the few states with no taxes on investment or job creation,” said a report released Monday by the think-tank Tax Foundation. It included various other tax reform options the General Assembly may consider this session.
Bradshaw said that hasn’t come up in conversations with prospects yet, but he’s watching for it. “It’s just talk,” he said. “If something like that is approved it will open up some eyes, I’m sure.”
For now, EDC is relying on its ramped-up marketing.
A major part of that effort is the Brunswick County Economic Development Foundation, set up in early 2012 to raise private-sector contributions to EDC’s mission of business recruitment, expansion and associated job creation. Essentially, the more money the foundation can raise, the more EDC can do to market the county’s industrial sites, like the International Logistics Park and Mid-Atlantic Logistics Park off U.S. 74. Each has more than 1,000 acres ready for suitors.
EDC is not a true department of Brunswick County government but does operate on county tax dollars. Its budget from the county for the current fiscal year is $396,682, covering salaries and programming costs, according to the county’s finance department.
The more than $60,000 raised by the foundation from private sources since last year has gone toward marketing trips, visits with site consultants and other boosts that EDC says is helping Brunswick County stand out in the fiercely competitive game of business wooing.
Bradshaw said the foundation has received private funding commitments worth $70,000 for each of the next two fiscal years.
For the past year, “The foundation also funded a number of studies to certify our industrial parks, paid for infrastructure improvements, assisted engineering work for prospects and paid for our new video, which is on our web site,” EDC wrote last week.
The organization announced in December the N.C. Department of Commerce had certified the International Logistics Park, meaning EDC can market the park as having the state’s difficult-to-achieve endorsement. The commerce department may also shop the park to companies searching for industrial land.
To secure the certification, EDC had to document the availability of water lines, sewer lines and industrial-grade power at the park. It also had to invest in geotechnical and environmental studies as well as various maps and development plans.
Bradshaw’s group is currently working toward the certification of the Mid-Atlantic Logistics Park.
Those parks have been contenders before. The International Logistics Park was in early 2012 a finalist for a new Caterpillar manufacturing plant (the company ultimately chose a site in Georgia); months prior, the Mid-Atlantic park was a finalist for a new Continental Tire plant (which went to South Carolina). Between them were at least 3,100 jobs.