Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist
March 25, 2014
During this weeks’ Newberry’s Notes, we will bring you readers up to date on current county government issues. Wayne Adams, Newberry County Administrator, will share his valuable time to provide comments and answer questions.
Our first topic is industrial recruitment. In South Carolina, counties are marketed for industrial investment at more than one level, and by more than one entity. While the County’s own economic developer markets industrial properties to prospective investors, so does the South Carolina Department of Commerce, and so does a regional alliance of counties.
• To what degree do these entities overlap, and to what degree do they complement one another? Is this an efficient way to seek out growth in jobs and the tax base?
The structure you describe is absolutely correct. What separates the other two marketing entities – state and regional – from our local economic development office is that the other two don’t owe their allegiance entirely to Newberry County. They serve many other counties, and without a local office to direct our economic development efforts, the focus on us would not be very sharp. The local economic development office is also responsible for planning and maintaining our inventory of potential sites, for showing and promoting only the sites in our inventory, and working with Council to determine what tax incentives the County can provide for any given project. This is what specifically positions our county in a competitive context with other counties, whether those counties are in South Carolina or in other states.
The SC Department of Commerce is, among other things, the conduit for state-level incentives that can be directed to a project. In years past, the Department of Commerce was also more closely involved in local economic development. However, their staff numbers have been reduced greatly in recent years, and, as a current philosophy, they emphasize the need for regional alliances and local, county-specific offices. Not all counties utilize regional alliances, but most do.
In sum, these various entities are very much interdependent.
Moving now to the topic of constructing and maintaining the County’s facilities. It appears that Council is becoming successful at fixing and working to prevent troublesome facilities issues; at preserving and re-using older buildings; at planning for future facilities needs. The new Sheriff’s Department building will re-use an abandoned facility while making it a state-of-the-art long-term solution. The shell of the old post office/library building is now in better shape than when it was in use as a library. The elimination of leaks that plagued the Courthouse roof for some years appears to have been a definitive solution to that problem. And our new animal shelter at last provides a humane and sanitary environment for that purpose.
• How are these successes being accomplished, and what is making these efforts so much better than in past years?
Our increased success in contracting for construction work and repairs has more to do with planning and patience than anything else. That involves engineered specifications and drawings on the front end, a competitive bid process – sometimes among only pre-qualified contractors – and constant project management during the construction phase. There are plenty of examples of work done cheaply that ended up being very expensive. And reactive facilities maintenance and planning is almost always hastily done and poorly executed.
We’re pleased to say that the new courthouse roof has now withstood numerous heavy rains without leaking. That is due to the attention we have paid to engineering, contractor selection, and oversight during construction. We carry over that same philosophy into every construction and major repair project we undertake, because ultimately that’s the best and least expensive approach.
Any entity charged with the wide range of services that a county provides has to remain constantly in a mode of plan, construct, maintain, and repair. That’s one reason Council has just created a facilities manager position focused on detailed planning, maintenance, and oversight. The creation of this position reflects this Council’s emphasis, above all Councils that have preceded it, on taking pride in our facilities and keeping them effective.
• What are some of the other challenges Newberry County is facing concerning facility construction and maintenance?
We own quite a number of buildings and parking lots, and keeping those in good repair on a limited budget is always going to be challenging. Limited funding requires us to evaluate our facilities on a continuing basis and to manage our priorities accordingly. Our primary tool for doing that will be a capital improvement plan – a document that prioritizes our facilities expenditures today, but also further down the road over several years. In addition upkeep of existing facilities, there are also growth-driven needs for new facilities. The County’s detention center is a major example, and it is arguably the capital need that looms largest on our horizon. The court system is also an area of growth pressure. One of the things we are in the process of evaluating is the cost of, and likelihood of success in, making the courthouse basement sufficiently waterproof for office occupancy. If this is not financially feasible, what better options are there for accommodating future growth? There are also needs for recreation facilities. At this time, the County does not own the facilities it utilizes for league play in youth sports. Do we want to change that, and if so on what scale?
Speaking of facilities, some believe that the County’s airport is a vital part of our future. Specifically, they cite the need for a new terminal building and a longer runway.
• Does the airport’s adjacency to the mega site for industrial development site enhance that position?
Most prospective buyers of the mega site property will want to see it from above – by air. Typically that means taking off from our airport in a helicopter. There is no doubt, from that perspective, that our terminal is a point of first impression, and the terminal building we currently have is minimal at best. As far as runways, the gold standard for airports similar to ours seems to be 5,000 to 6,000 feet. To have a runway of that length, we will almost certainly have to change its orientation, essentially building a new runway. There are numerous complications with extending the present runway; there are roadways on each end, as well as a golf course and a manufacturing industry. Beyond that, the state and federal funding sources will help pay the upkeep costs to keep only one runway open, meaning the current one might have to be abandoned altogether.
So, there are some hard decisions to be made concerning the airport. However, some of these, particularly choices about the runway, would be much easier to make in conjunction with a large investment by a manufacturer on the mega site. The airport has to be considered among all the other demands on the County’s resources to construct, maintain, and repair facilities. Having a capital improvement plan won’t guarantee that we can undertake all of these projects. It will only settle our priorities in the context of limited resources.
The second part of Margaret Brackett’s interview with Wayne Adams will be in the Friday edition of The Newberry Observer