MONROE – Competition among cities, counties and states is fierce when it comes to recruiting precision manufacturing companies and the good-paying jobs that come with them. Monroe-Union County Economic Development is also facing other headwinds in 2018 as it tries to lure new companies to the fast-growing region.
But those headwinds are part of Union County’s success story.
An unemployment rate below 4 percent coupled with a lack of existing manufacturing space has made a tough job even tougher, Chris Plate’, executive director of Monroe-Union County Economic Development, told members of the Union County Chamber of Commerce on May 16.
Plate’ was one of three speakers at the chamber’s 2018 State of Union County public policy luncheon that was attended by more than 100 business and community leaders at the Rolling Hills Country Club.
Plate’ said there is just one “viable” building suitable for a large manufacturing company for sale or lease in the county and that the county’s unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent. But being so close to Charlotte and a large potential employee pool helps attract new industry.
“At 3.8 percent, you are at full employment,” Plate’ said. “Most of the available buildings have been acquired, leased or consumed in some way. We have several of the small size, 5,000 square feet or smaller but that is not where we really target. Ours are in the 20,000 or larger. Manufacturing is our bread-and-butter and that is where we will target first. There definitely is some land available.”
Plate’ said the opening of the Monroe Expressway later this year will offer a new path for industrial and commercial development. The expressway runs on U.S. 74 from I-485 in Mecklenburg County to between Wingate and Marshville.
“I think it will definitely change our dynamic completely,” Plate’ said. “It will open us up with the opportunity for logistics. We really don’t have a competitive advantage there, but now we will. We will be able to get product out to Wilmington, Charlotte, up-and-down the interstates and not be locked up by the 15 stoplights that are on 74 now.”
County Manager Cindy Coto also gave an update on the ongoing plan to acquire water from the Yadkin River Basin.
Union County’s water project will include a new water intake and pump station on Lake Tillery in Norwood in Stanly County, a new water treatment plant in Union County and an approximately 21-mile pipeline to bring water to Union County residents from the Yadkin River Basin. The permit allows Union County to pump 23 million gallons of water a day, which is based on what the estimate additional water usage the county will need in 2050.
The state regulates transfers between river basins, weighing the benefits with environmental and other concerns. The county received Inter-basin Transfer Certification from the state last year, but there have been some challenges to the project.
Coto, however, isn’t concerned.
“It’s not an if, in my opinion, it is when,” Coto said.
Union County receives most of its water from the Catawba River Basin but with an ever-growing influx of new residents, the county may not be able to add new users in several years without another water source.
Coto also said a new county budget will be in place by June 30 for the next fiscal year.
“At this point in time, the board has directed staff to reduce the county side of the tax rate by 2.5 cents, which is part of the overall budget that will be delivered,” Coto said.