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Franklin County

An Outstanding Environment For Business

By Mary Elle Hunter

      Franklin County, located just 30 miles from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and from North Carolina's prestigious Research Triangle Park, is the home to cutting-edge industrial activity in diverse fields, such as telecommunications, plastics, enzymes, software, metal products, circuit board assembly, blueprinting machinery, medical products and office furniture.  The competitive land costs, quality labor availability and the quick and easy access to the amenities offered by the Triangle area have been attracting manufacturers and entrepreneurs to the county in recent years.

      The continuing success of the Economic Development Commission, directed by Ronnie Goswick, is due in part to the cooperation of the local officials in support of the Commission's efforts.  Goswick says, The County Commissioners have really stepped up to the plate and done a great job of getting behind the Commission. They approved the hiring of an existing industry coordinator/grant writer/media specialist to help market the county, and that has been a tremendous addition to the office.

      They also have offered incentives to companies locating here, and this has broadened the tax base. Overall, the County Commissioners and other local officials have backed the whole concept of economic development, because they realize it is the lifeblood of our community.

      The importance of nurturing the existing industries in Franklin County is a view that has played a significant role in the economic development of the county.  For instance, Novozymes, a manufacturer of food and industrial grade enzymes, is in the midst of a $26.1 million expansion to its facilities.

      Richie Duncan, the energetic young woman who is Franklin County's Existing Industry Coordinator, explains the purpose of Novozymes' expansion is to increase their production capacity as well as to increase their research and development facilities. They are constructing additional laboratory space, as well as adding a new tower for production.

      Other expansions presently underway include a move to a new $1.4 million building by Southeastern Emergency Equipment and the doubling of Arch Aluminum's present space to a new 100,000 square foot building.  The most recent expansion of Southern Lithoplate, which has expanded their operation seven times since they first opened in Franklin County, gave them a boost in manufacturing capacity, putting them in a leading production position in their market segment.  And Welsh Paper has gone from a single building twenty years ago to a six facility campus, with 25,000 different products.

      Richie Duncan says, Not every county in North Carolina has an existing industry position within the Economic Development office.  We are very fortunate that our commissioners recognized an opportunity to help develop the county's business base through concentration on expansion of existing industries.

      According to Duncan, the process starts with the building of a relationship and showing appreciation for those who have selected Franklin County as a home for their business.  Then we try and match up the resources the county has with the needs of a particular company who might be considering an expansion.  We have a skilled and dedicated workforce, and the cost of land is still affordable, making it conducive for expansions as well as for attracting new businesses.

      Ronnie Goswick points to the addition of several new industries, among them Moxley Masonry; SMT Resources, a company that manufactures and retools electronic components; a branch of Eaton Corporation, the Ohio-based diversified industrial manufacturer; and Advanced Metal Processing, the first US location to utilize environmentally friendly RODECS technology developed by a graduate of NCSU to decoat, delacquer and dry materials that otherwise could not be recycled domestically.  These companies join Apogee Medical, K-Flex USA, Captive-Aire Systems, Alcan Packaging, The Hon Company and Universal Forest Products, among others, as the top manufacturing firms in the county.

      The success of the economic development efforts in Franklin County is borne out by the figures.  Just under 1000 new jobs have been created over the last two years, and the total investment by new or existing industries is $33,917,897.

      A four-county initiative, known as the Kerr-Tar Hub and now called Triangle North is taking shape as a part of a regional economic development effort involving Franklin, Vance, Granville and Warren Counties.  Triangle North is a network of specialized business parks in each of the four counties, and a 33,900 square foot shell building was recently completed on the site of Triangle North Franklin.

      Goswick says, We are currently marketing the building and are encouraged by the reaction of several firms who are considering the site.  In addition, we have completed Phase 1 of the road project for the 252-acre park, and we are working on the design of Phase 2 and the master plan that will be adopted by the Kerr-Tar Regional Council. One of the most beneficial developments is the public/private partnership with Embarq to provide fiber optics, so we now offer broadband service to the entire industrial park.

      An objective of the Economic Development Commission to provide jobs for Franklin County residents within the county itself has shown steady improvement, and should be helped even more once the Triangle North Franklin industrial park becomes operational.  We were at a point where 64% of all of our residents commuted to work in other counties, and now we have got that down to 58%, so we are headed in the right direction, comments Ronnie Goswick.

      The growth of the Franklin County Regional Airport is an integral part of economic development in the county.  Across from the Triangle North Franklin, the airport has become a critical part of the equation when trying to attract industry since, as Goswick points out, more companies use charter and private aircraft for business.  Data from the state's Department of Transportation Aviation Division indicates that the airport had a recent economic impact of an estimated $13 million.

      A new airport director was appointed in September to oversee the increased activity.  Robert Southerland, a Franklin county native who took his first flight lessons at the airport in the 90's, is a veteran of the U. S. Air Force, and holds a Master of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and an undergraduate degree from East Carolina University.

      Angela Harris, Franklin County Manager, observes that the Airport Commission and the Board of County Commissioners have identified long-term goals for the airport, and Mr. Southerland will play an integral part in updating these plans.  We also recognize the economic potential of the airport - and we will be working with the Economic Development Commission to maximize opportunities at Franklin County Regional Airport and in the surrounding area.

      Although the national economic downturn is having some effect on Franklin County, Ronnie Goswick and other business leaders are cautiously optimistic.  We still have a lot of projects on which we are working both for new business and expansions, Goswick says.  "We are fortunate to be a Research Triangle Region Community where from June-August new and expanding companies announced more than $1 billion in investments in the 13-county region.  We want to see the growth to continue to come to this area and especially to Franklin County."

      "I think that the future looks good for Franklin County," commented Stephen Barrington, Director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.  "While there may be more competition for the same dollor, local business owners and professionals have an incredible amount of entrepreneurial spirit and will not only adapt to the conditions, they will make the conditions work for them, even if that means they need to work towards readjusting their own business model."

Reprinted from Carolina Business online.

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