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Platé envisions ‘micro-economies’ within county

23 July 2013

By Heather Smith - Enquirer-Journal

Monroe Union County Economic Development staff compiled a work plan spanning 2013 to 2015 which commissioners approved Monday. Executive director Chris Platé presented the completed, county-wide economic development plan of work. It outlined how MUCED staff plans to market different areas of the county, the types of industries to focus on and the challenges Union County leaders must face to become regionally competitive.

The merger of county and Monroe groups in January is the first unified economic development in Union County in 20 years. It boasts a $700,000 budget, while saving taxpayers $400,000 because of the merger.

The merger meant MUCED staff had to evaluate all areas of the county for the type of economic development the communities want. The evaluation also looked at each community’s competitive advantages like access to major roads or water and sewer infrastructure.

“The plan is to guide us in the organization to execute the efforts put together so the overriding goals of the plan is to create more job opportunities, create additional industrial and commercial capital investment and to better define Union County to various target audiences,” Platé said.

The county’s economy is not uniform. Platé described several “micro-economies” inside the county. Some are doing well and others are not. That diversity is due to areas with different characteristics. The industry that drives Marvin’s economy contrasts with what drives the economy of Marshville. Likewise, the tax base, demographics, income range and culture vary widely.  

So the plan tailors economic development plans to the different communities. There are five economic development categories MUCED will concentrate on for different areas.

Precision manufacturing, such as the aerospace business hub built in Monroe, provide well-paying jobs. Making it a focus in Union County takes advantage of companies moving facilities from China and Mexico back to the U.S. Because of its proximity to an international airport, Union County can specifically target companies based in western Europe, Platé said.

Union County is a state and national leader in agribusiness, with potential for timber processing and a the state’s largest equine population. Yet, using that large farm economy to attract agriculture-related businesses remains untapped.

“Union County’s never leveraged the agricultural base that it has to recruit ag-based manufacturing,” Platé said. “Therefore, we know there are vast opportunities in this area of focus for us.”

Because of the county’s location makes it a good place for logistics operations, the moving of goods and information or the coordination of services. The Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and the Charlotte Monroe Executive Airport boosts local recruiting power. The completed Monroe Connector-Bypass means faster travel time to and from Charlotte.

“Though Union County is not the most competitive in this area because of limited infrastructure and roads, that will strengthen over time,” Platé said.

Many communities, especially those along I-485, expressed interest in developing commercial business. Though a “non-traditional” economic development focus, those communities could see growth in quality of life and non-residential tax base.

“Union County can capitalize on its location again adjacent to I-485, providing numerous opportunities to develop sports and entertainment areas, office parks and stronger retail presence in the Charlotte region,” he said.

Because not all areas of the county are the same, not all will be submitted for the same projects. Communities fitting the requirements of a particular industry are more likely to attract the business. Since smart business leaders typically approach several towns and counties for incentives, those making the best offer tend to win over the business. The EDC staff organized the areas to what types of businesses it should go after, though nothing is set in stone.

“This in no way dictates to a community how it should grow,” Platé said.

To market the different aspects of Union County, he presented three “brands.” Gateway Union County will highlight the county’s western side. Monroe Aero will build on the aerospace business hub already in place. Grow Union County will focus on the county’s strong agricultural industry.

The county faces a major disadvantage in marketable buildings and sites. Other counties have industry and office parks with graded pads, buildings and infrastructure in place. It will take time for Union to catch up, but it is possible if county leaders make it a priority.

While part of MUCED’s duties is recruiting new businesses, retention of current business is the major focus of staff. The work plan continues to dedicate most of its focus on keeping the companies already here.

“Given the current economic conditions, it’s imperative that we work with our existing companies to identify opportunities to expand early in their planning process. When learning of a company’s plan to consolidate or expand, we can facilitate that investment here in Union County with the tools we have available,” Platé said.

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