Hospira has invested $200 million in an expansion of its Rocky Mount plant, which employs more than 2,600 workers.

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Hospira has invested $200 million in an expansion of its Rocky Mount plant, which employs more than 2,600 workers.

Slow-growing local economy could be primed for a jolt

By COREY DAVIS

Staff Writer

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Attracting new industries and expanding existing companies continues to be the goal for Rocky Mount to help grow the local economy.

John Gessaman, chief executive officer of the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, said the city has selected sites for potential industries to relocate.

The Carolinas Gateway Partnership is a local public-private industrial recruitment agency dedicated to the economic development of Nash and Edgecombe counties.

Earlier this month, the Rocky Mount City Council approved an additional 150 gallons a day of sewer capacity for a line along N.C. 97 between Halifax Road and Interstate 95. A few years ago, the site was considered by Sanderson Farms, a Mississippi-based company that had plans to build a major poultry processing plant, which would have created 1,100 jobs. Gessaman said no plans are on the table for developing the site, but the increased capacity has made for better marketability.

“We’re looking for that site to be about 140 acres, and it could accommodate pretty good industry,” he said. “That industry needs to be compatible with our surroundings. We’ve been trying to market that site through our website and include it into a number of different proposals for industries to come in. It is a great location, and it is just the matter of matching it up with the right industry for the site.”

Within the past 18 months, three new industries have invested in the area, while creating new employment opportunities. In April, Carolina Innovative Food Ingredients, which specializes in producing high-quality dehydrated and juice fruit and vegetable products, announced it is expecting to invest $19 million in a new facility in Nash County. The business plans to employ about 64 people, and production is slated to start during the first quarter of 2015. The average salary will be $40,250 a year plus benefits.

Last December, Nutkao USA, an Italian-based international company that produces hazel nut-based spread, said it plans to create 56 new jobs and invest more than $7.3 million during the next three years in the Rocky Mount area. The company is locating in a 100,000-square-foot shell building in the Whitakers Industrial Park in Goldrock.

Acme United Corp., a supplier of cutting, measuring and safety products for hospitals, schools and industrial markets, plans to build a new manufacturing plant on the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount. Acme bought a vacant building on Tanner Road for $2.8 million with plans to hire 90 workers.

Effort to expand

Expansion of existing businesses also has added local jobs.

Hospira broke ground on a new pharmaceutical lab. Gessaman said the expansion would bring 200 additional workers, representing one of the larger economic development projects in the history of Nash County.

“They could spend up to $270 million through equipment on that site,” Gessaman said. “I would say with this environment that we are in in 2014, we’ve got to work hard for every job,” Gessaman said. “No matter, if they’re 29 or 200 jobs, the fact is someone here is going to occupy that job. That is pretty important to them. One of the things we’re proud of at the Carolinas Gateway Partnership is when you look at the work we have done, almost half of our existing companies we have helped them expand.”

While statistics show a yearly decline in the unemployment rate, it isn’t an actual indicator of the number of people who are jobless.

“The unemployment rate can go down simply by decreasing the number of people in the work force, and that isn’t a good thing,” Gessaman said. “It could be people who have stopped working, left the area or stopped looking all together. We need to increase the work force because the number of jobs over time has pretty much stayed the same. We need to increase the number of jobs because more jobs equals more people. But that is the challenge.”

Triangle connection

Rocky Mount leaders hope industrial recruitment efforts will increase thanks to a partnership with the Research Triangle Park, which includes Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill. The area is anchored by leading technology firms, major universities and medical centers.

Gessaman said being identified with the Research Triangle Park carries a lot of “cache” because of people across the nation having some knowledge of it.

“We’re aren’t that far from the Research Triangle, and it is projected to be one of the fastest growing areas in the country,” Gessaman said. “There isn’t a reason to believe we aren’t going to gain from that association.”

N.C. State University economics professor Michael Walden has pushed Rocky Mount leaders to look at the Twin Counties as a lower-cost location for certain firms that perhaps want to be near the Triangle.

“Rocky Mount is an attractive spot for businesses relocating that want to be near Raleigh or Greenville because of such things as lower rent and lower cost to pay an available labor force,” Walden said.

New restaurants

Alan Matthews, director of business recruitment at the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce, recently said Rocky Mount is in the process of luring at least nine new restaurants to the area in the next couple of years. He said Rocky Mount is engaged with several national retailers seeking to make long-term investments in Nash and Edgecombe counties.

Matthews said a prospective large industry could be encouraged by activity and potential growth taking place throughout the city.

“When large industries are seeking location in a city, they are also interested in the overall city to include a look at the central city as well as quality of services and quality of life within our broader community,” Matthews said. “They want their employees that transition to the area to have access to good restaurants, shopping and quality services. Our industrial recruitment from the Carolinas Gateway Partnership, the Rocky Mount Area Chamber business recruitment along with Downtown Development desire to work together to provide those needed services and consumer spending opportunities to satisfy the work force in our city as well as our two-county metropolitan areas.”

Gessaman said several factors are considered when bringing in or missing out on industries.

In most cases where Rocky Mount has lost out on attracting industry to the area, companies have chosen not to go forward with local projects based on a combination of things such as linguistics, operational costs, proximity to customers, proximity to a major airport and the incentive package, Gessaman said.

“There is a lot that goes into these things, and these companies don’t want to make mistakes,” he said. “These things are pretty thorough, and they investigate everything down to how many administrative assistants are in an area.”

Gessaman said the competition is fierce.

“There are a lot of great places in this country, and in this world,” he said. “We compete with all of them, and when they make a decision (their) futures are on the line. Industries know where Rocky Mount is, and we need to find a reason for them to come and settle here.”