Study outlines distinct strengths, weaknesses for town
Indian Trail needs to focus on four economic development sectors, in order to succeed. That was one of the details in an economic development study done by Raleigh based consulting firm Sanford Holshouser. In earlier discussions with the town council, Holshouser officials laid out seven potential industries for the town to target. In the finished study, that’s narrowed down to four: Financial operations, distribution, aviation research and development and energy manufacturing.
“The Monroe Bypass will open land up for the distribution sector,” Holshouser managing partner Michael Geouge, a former city planner, wrote in the report. “The bypass, coupled with the town’s existing access to I-485, will offer companies direct trucking routes into and out of the Charlotte metro area. Other assets such as the skilled workforce strongly support the recruitment of technology sectors such as aerospace, energy, and financial services.”
Geouge pointed out that the city of Monroe is well known in the aviation and aerospace industry. In the report, he recommends that Indian Trail use its resources to take advantage of that fact.
“We recommend positioning Indian Trail, and a new office/business park, to capture (research and development) in aerospace, small high-tech niche manufacturers, and services (such as engineering) that serve aerospace,” Geouge wrote. “Indian Trail could become a location for (research and development) to serve companies in both Monroe and Charlotte.”
One of the examples for Indian Trail to possibly follow for a business park, Geouge pointed out, is the joint venture between Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson. That business park is 334 acres, marketed by the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation.
The report also points out that distribution companies currently in Indian Trail are expanding. As a result, Geouge recommended that the town look to grow in that industry and bring in more companies.
“There is not currently available land to foster further development of the distribution sector (but) when the new I-74 bypass opens, Indian Trail will have land available and suitable for distribution facilities,” Geouge wrote.
He added that the distribution industry typically doesn’t have high paying jobs, but it does have a high ratio of investment to job creation.
In order to get companies to relocate to Indian Trail, the town has to overcome several weaknesses, the report said. Geouge outlined several issues that the group found to be a problem in attracting business. That includes a lack of water and sewer infrastructure, lack of recreational parks, no downtown or central hub for offices to locate and limited resources. Another problem for the town was a lack of a positive image, Geouge wrote.
This year, in order to build on the study, Geouge recommended that the town look to enhance its current business retention and expansion program, network with other towns to recruit companies and investigate the idea of a multi-jurisdictional park. Additionally, he suggested the town work to build internal marketing and branding, to eliminate some of the negative perception and outline some priority sites that would fit companies in the targeted industries.
Council members said they appreciated the information and now the town can focus on a direction. “We’re no longer looking to figure out who we are, as far as what direction we want to go,” council member Robert Allen said. “When I first moved here, I compared Indian Trail to a 100 year old gangly teenager, who was trying to figure out who he was. Now I feel we have the direction (and) we’ve got the tools to make it happen.”
Council member Chris King agreed, adding that before sectioning off land for any industries, he wants to make sure the roads and other infrastructure can handle it.
“I believe for Indian Trail to accommodate (economic development), the infrastructure has to be in place to do so,” King said. “I’m not going to start sectioning off land for research parks until we have the roads to go into it.”
Council member David Waddell questioned why the town had to look at purchasing land or laying the infrastructure for a project. Since the developers are the ones making money off the projects, Waddell said, why can’t they be the ones to pay for it.
“It sounds like you have to bribe someone to come to town,” Waddell said.
Indian Trail Town Manager Joe Fivas and Economic Development Coordinator Kelly Barnhart both pointed out that if the town didn’t partner with companies to share the cost and offer incentives, they would move on to another area.
“It’s not that they can’t do it, it’s that there’s someone down the road that’s offering the public-private partnership,” Fivas said. “They’ll just bypass you and move on.”
In order to bring in the commercial projects, the council needs to be willing to invest, council member Darlene Luther said.
“We can’t say we want high paying jobs and (then) we’re not willing to make an investment,” Luther said. “If we as a council sit back and say yeah we’re not willing to make the investment, we won’t have high paying jobs. We need to mirror or be more innovative (than) what other communities are doing to get these kind of (companies).”
“Gone are the days when developers come in and do it all,” Barnhart added.
Barnhart and Fivas received authorization from the council to research areas for potential office parks, industrial parks and distribution centers. The staff will also prepare a report, due in July, detailing the different options.