During this week’s Newberry Notes, Wayne Adams, Newberry County Administrator, donated time from his busy schedule to be our guest. He will answer questions and comment on current issues occurring in Newberry County government.
Margaret: First of all, congratulations are in order. In August, Newberry County won the prestigious J. Mitchell Graham Award at the annual South Carolina Association of Counties conference. The award was given for the new Piedmont Technical College campus.
Wayne: This recognition echoes what we are hearing from citizens here in Newberry County – that the new Piedmont Tech campus is one of the best expenditures the county has ever made.
The J. Mitchell Graham Award competition emphasizes creativity, widespread benefits, and inter-agency cooperation. Of the projects presented at the annual conference, Newberry County’s was the clear winner in all of these categories.
It’s great when your peers – other counties, in this case – recognize what you’re doing. It’s great that they are interested in how we made it happen. And in this case, Newberry County truly did something that had never been done before.
Perhaps the most amazing part of this project is its great potential to continue benefiting Newberry County well into the future. There is 20,000 square feet in additional space that can accommodate future programs. In partnership with County Council, the College is beginning a two-year degree program in mechatronics next fall. Piedmont Tech is also now planning to finish the auditorium that was part of the original building plans, but could not be funded in the first phase. Also, among economic development prospects, we are seeing a great deal of interest in what the County is doing at the new campus.
Margaret: When will the new mechatronics degree program begin at Piedmont Tech, and what will be its importance to Newberry County’s future, in terms of economic development?
Wayne: Mechatronics represents a combination of computer technology, engineering, and robotics that is driving the modern manufacturing workplace. The new degree program says that Newberry County is capable of training technicians for that environment.
Jobs requiring mechatronics training are also high-paying jobs. Beyond attracting investment that improves the tax base, this creates discretionary income that can be spent in the economy at large, not just tax receipts to pay for the functions of local government. A well-rounded sense of economic advancement in Newberry County will depend on this kind of income growth.
Newberry County Council was awarded a contract to build the much-discussed speculative building in the Mid-Carolina Commerce Park. This is a six-month project, and it is limited to constructing the “shell” of the building. We construct only the shell because different manufacturing processes have different needs for utility placement, flooring specifications, and numerous other factors that go into a completed manufacturing facility.
But the shell building gives industry a critical head start, in terms of time. The infrastructure – roads, water, sewer, power – are already in place; the land parcel has already been tested for suitability, and has cleared all of the environmental hurdles and permitting requirements; basic design elements have been completed, and a time-consuming portion of the construction work is finished. It’s a much different prospect from merely convincing industry that Newberry County is a great place to be.
These are the reasons why at least two-thirds of companies looking to site new manufacturing plants want to look at existing buildings. And spec buildings are especially important, simply because they allow companies so much process-specific flexibility in completing and customizing construction. Existing older buildings do not generally offer these advantages.
Along with these benefits comes the fact that spec buildings attract companies to look at your community. Even if the company does not choose the spec building, our economic development team gets a chance to “sell” the company on Newberry County. This brings in companies that otherwise would never have taken a look at us.
Margaret: Teresa Powers , Economic Development Director, is on a marketing trip to Germany. She is part of a larger group that includes other economic development professionals, and Governor Haley as well. What is so beneficial about focusing internationally on economic development?
Wayne: First of all, whenever your economic developer is with the Governor on an economic development trip, it’s hard to say that her time could be better spent. You might recall that last September the County sent a senior delegation, including Teresa, to Japan on a similar trip that also involved Gov. Haley. Regardless of your political persuasion, we have found Governor Haley to be intently focused on economic development, and we have found the South Carolina Department of Commerce to be very interested in helping Newberry County.
Why do we go abroad looking for investment? It’s because that’s where a lot of the investment comes from. Komatsu and Kiswire, for instance, are Asian companies that have invested in Newberry County. And we think that, over time, these companies will add to their investments here, as we have seen recently with Kiswire. But international investment in a community does not happen merely by chance, and neither do expansions from existing international companies. We have to chase that investment and compete for it, just as other communities compete.
Note: This is part one of Margaret Brackett’s interview with the county administrator. The second part will be in Friday’s paper.