The decision by Japanese transmission parts manufacturer FCC to invest $57.6 million in a Scotland County expansion project represents the largest success for county economic recruitment in years, say county officials.
According to the Scotland County Economic Development office, there has been approximately $86 million in new investment in the county since 2008, including the $57.6 million to be invested by FCC.
“To put that into context, it has been eight or nine years since we have had an investment on that scale,” said Greg Icard, Economic Developer for Scotland County.
The last industry investment involving a recruiting effort by the county to exceed one-third of FCC’s investment took place back in 2006 when Kordsa expanded its twisting and weaving operation in Laurel Hill at a cost of $22 million.
FCC’s decision to expand continues the trend of investment by companies with headquarters in other countries.
In addition to FCC, Kordsa (Turkey), Pilkington (United Kingdom) and Umicore (Belgium) all have significant industry presences in Scotland County.
“We have a lot of foreign investment in Scotland County,” Icard said.
The FCC decision also continues the trend of significant investment by a company with an existing facility in the county.
“Most of the other investments have been small, but it is all important, and we are constantly trying to add to our tax base with new investment,” Icard said.
New industry equipment is depreciated to 25 percent of its total taxable value over seven years, making maintaining the tax base a constant challenge for Icard and the county.
Investments on the scale of FCC’s do not come along very often, which made the failure to secure a deal with Caterpillar earlier this year that would have brought more than $175 million in new investment to the county particularly difficult, Icard said.
“(That) $175 million is everything in Scotland County when you consider that the total tax base is $1.9 billion,” Icard said.
That project would have also meant as many as 2,000 jobs for the county when factoring in the other businesses that would have likely located in the area to be near the Caterpillar facility.
While not as tantalizingly close to coming to Scotland County as the Caterpillar project was, Icard said that his office worked another project last year that would have meant an $800 million investment.
“We have actually had quite a few of the larger ones lately,” said Icard. “These big projects can mean so much for the tax base, so that’s why they say you always chase the buffalo, even though we are always aggressively pursuing the smaller investments too.”
“If you don’t do industry recruitment, you don’t get anything, so we will keep working at it so that we can bring good news to the county like FCC.”
Scotland County was in competition with Indiana for the FCC expansion project, and Icard said that he was in near constant communication with FCC over the past year assisting them as they made their decision.
Pursuing reinvestment by existing industry is only one aspect of what Icard calls a new, diversified approach to economic development being pursued by the county.
“In addition to retention and expansion, we are also working toward aggressively recruiting new business,” Icard said.
That work includes identifying land space and resources so that when company representatives come calling, there is always a suitable space available.
“Sometimes we are working on very short notice with companies, so we must know the land well,” said Icard, who has become so familiar with the county GIS system that he can identify most addresses in the area by memory.
The third element of the county’s new approach is cultivating entrepreneurship through “economic gardening.”
“I’ve been talking about doing this for two years and it has taken two years to get the funding for it, but now that we have got the building I think we will very quickly show how (economic gardening) will benefit the county,” Icard said, referencing the county’s new Small Business Innovation Center which is due to be completed before the end of the year.
The center will include a large space for two tenants to grow their business and offer small business and entrepreneurship training thanks to a partnership with Richmond Community College.
The partnership with RCC may already paid off, as prospective industry has shown an interest in what the college has to offer.
“Our partnership is a recruitment tool, but it is also a way for us to grow our own businesses,” said Icard, who believes strongly in “utilizing community partners and business leaders.”
Along with RCC, Scotland County has also partnered with the city of Laurinburg in the Small Business Innovation Center.
Local leaders meet on Thursday in Laurinburg for the second time in recent months for a stakeholders meeting to discuss economic development.
“Basically any available partner we can work with, because the whole point of assisting entrepreneurship is to identify people with good ideas and help create an environment for their success,” Icard said.
Icard also hopes the Innovation Center’s resources will help entrepreneurs avoid malinvestment by letting them know if their ideas are not very good.