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Editorial: Economic growth is opportunity for the county

Updated: May 24, 2021

By: Les High, The News Reporter

Columbus County has had three good wins with new industrial announcements in the past month, reflecting the growing economy but also capitalizing on the county’s strengths.

Contract Lumber announced that it will create 27 jobs at the former Georgia-Pacific plant, Pipeline Plastics will create 44 jobs at the former Ply-Gem plant in Fair Bluff and Jay Industries bought property in Southeast Regional Industrial Park for a soil additive mixing facility plus the former Fair Bluff Armory to manufacture additives for sanitizing products.

Combined with business announcements by Harbor Freight, Smithfield Barbecue and Cook Out, an estimated 150 jobs have been created this spring.

Columbus County Economic Development Director says there are common threads. Contract Lumber, Pipeline Plastics, Jay Technologies, Harbor Freight and Cook Out have occupied or will occupy existing buildings.

The cost is often less than constructing new buildings, he said, and when companies are ready to expand, they don’t want to wait months.

The problem, Lanier said, is that Columbus County has essentially no large usable, available buildings. Every building in Southeast Regional Industrial Park is either occupied or soon will be.

Lanier said North Carolina’s Southeast, the regional economic development partnership, put out a call in the last week for two 100,000 square foot or larger buildings at the request of companies looking to locate in the region; yet, Columbus County got removed from the list right away because of a lack of building inventory.

County government is buying the North Whiteville BB&T campus for only $1.25 million, and Lanier said an internationally based company made an inquiry on the property within the week.

The other common denominator in the positive news is the role played by Southeastern Community College, Lanier said. The college provides on-the-job training and students who are looking for work. Workforce prep and availability are often the most important factors in a company’s decision to locate, and having the college play an active role greatly helps recruitment.

Private investors are building a 150,000 square foot spec industrial building at the International Logistics Park on the Columbus-Brunswick County line on U.S. 74-76. The two counties and a private company partnered to create the park and provide infrastructure for it.

If the building is sold or leased quickly, the county should consider constructing its own shell building if an industrial client comes calling.

Proximity to the port, I-95, U.S. 74 and other major highways, plus good water and sewer infrastructure in or near many municipalities, raises the question of whether the county should construct a shell building while the economic expansion continues.

The adages about infrastructure and workforce availability and training don’t waver when it comes to industrial recruitment. With an economic expansion predicted for the foreseeable future, now is the time for the county to look ahead.

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