By Jesse Wood
Aug. 22, 2012. At last night’s Watauga County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board tabled a request by members of the Economic Development Commission to approve a business park in the old Watauga High School site.
The board directed County Manager Deron Geouque to schedule a meeting with members of the EDC and the board of commissioners in the future.
“I don’t know if I would want to take action today. There are too many unknowns,” Chairman Nathan Miller said. “Do you have a figure for how much more money the county has to sink in to pad this out?”
Mentioning “pad this out,” Miller was referring to the flatness of the site. Of the 74-acre property, nearly 25 acres of it is “relatively flat” and “pad ready,” according to the master plan of the park included in the meeting’s packet.
Also, there will be costs associated with installing the appropriate infrastructure for a Light Industrial park such as water, sewer, natural gas, three-phase power, fiber optics and so forth. The master plan states that park consists of 13 various-sized lots, ranging from 2.2 to 9.5 acres. Each lot is proposed to have a building ranging from 18,000 to 60,000 square feet with 60 to 180 parking lots.
Commissioner Vince Gable said that before he could make a decision, he needed to know what the actual costs were and the expected rate of return on those monies.
EDC Director said, “At present time, we are not proposing any money – except due diligence.”
EDC Chairman Keith Honeycutt said this proposed park has the potential be a “shot in the arm” for Watauga County, and that the jobs inside the park would be higher paying than many of the service-related jobs prevalent in the High Country. He added that unlike the current situation in Watauga County, the service industry should follow economic growth rather than lead that growth.
“It should be other way around. Those jobs will be in the upper 30s to low 40s,” Honeycutt said. “I would rather offer someone a $40,000 job. This park is what it is going to take to provide that kind of job.”
Tommy Sofield, a manufacturer in the current Industrial Park off of U.S. 421 and a member of the EDC, said because of lack of manufacturing sites and buildings, Charleston Forge had to take some business to Surry County. He also added that he had to take some of his business – and jobs with it – into Wilkes County.
“As we added new product lines, we had to go to Wilkes County,” Sofield said. “75 people are working in Wilkes. I would much rather them working here, have those jobs here.”
The current industrial park has been full for 20 years, according to information in the agenda packet. In 2008 before the recession, the park’s peak employment registered more than 500. Currently, there are more than 300 employees in the park.
“The oppurtunity is here. We have it right here in front of us,” Sofield said. “We might not have this opportunity for another 20 years. I would hate to see this pass us by.”
Commissioner Jim Deal was involved with the original industrial park and he mentioned that the same discussions brought up by Gable and Miller took place years ago.
“At that point of time, the commissioners wisely asked what’s the rate of return,” Deal said. “We’ve had 100s of jobs out there, people earning wages and shopping in Watauga.”
Deal added that the discussion needs to continue that mentions pros and cons of the project and suggested that a special meeting take place between the members of the board and the EDC.
For more information regarding the whole project, click here: http://www.hcpress.com/news/economic-development-comm-to-request-a-business-park-at-old-whs-at-tuesdays-commissioners-meeting.html