County targets job creation

County commissioners will target job growth throughout the next fiscal year – a goal leaders said can only succeed with help from area groups.

In a special seven-hour meeting earlier this week, Catawba County commissioners met with area economic and municipal leaders to hammer out ideas and goals for the future.

They worked with area groups to identify two main goals for the future: job creation and economic stabilization. Commissioners and economic officials say both are key issues during a time when the Greater Hickory region’s unemployment level continues to hover around 12.5 percent.

“The county has a whole lot to offer, both from the small business and entrepreneurial side to the good manufacturing base for existing companies to expand,” said Randy Isenhower, a county commissioner.

Isenhower said he wants to put the county’s existing labor force back to work, adding that local manufacturing expansions in the past year are a good sign of things to come.

In total, the county saw about $47.5 million invested and 800 jobs created during the 2010-11 fiscal year. A lot of those jobs came in the manufacturing sector, said Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

The information and energy sectors also grew countywide last year, with companies like Turbocoating committing to creating 118 new jobs, Millar said.

Millar and other economic leaders say area development is not over, and they say there are several economic opportunities that still have room to grow.

The county plans to use a growing chain of resources to create jobs.

Commissioners say utilizing groups like the EDC and local municipalities can promote, create and maintain new jobs.

Commissioners have mulled a new multi-jurisdictional business park for the last several years, and Isenhower said county leaders will work to make it a reality throughout the next year. The park, which would be funded by area municipalities, would benefit each invested party through its tax base and sales tax revenues.

“It would be all of us working together to promote all of what we have. Rather than one municipality saying this is what we’ve got, it would be the all of us saying this is what the county has,” Isenhower said. “We’re going to try to coordinate efforts amongst private individuals, municipalities, the EDC and Chamber of Commerce to create a good job climate to recruit industry and citizens to the area.”

Catawba County Commissioners Chairwoman Kitty Barnes said the county is getting “very close” to making ideas like the multi-jurisdictional park a reality.

“We will work toward moving toward keeping projects on line,” Barnes said, adding that the county is working toward finalizing several capital projects, including a new animal shelter and additions to the Catawba County Justice Center.

By producing work opportunities, the county also hopes to attract and retain younger working entrepreneurs and professionals. They say the facilitation of small, creative, mid-tech and medical jobs will create an appealing working environment for those ages 20-44.

The completion of widening N.C. 16 will create quick access to Charlotte that commissioners think will also attract a younger population to the area.

“We need to continue to work with people that have left the area to go to other colleges and make sure they are coming back,” said Barbara Beatty, a county commissioner. “How do we retain the 20-45 year-olds? We’ve got to do some work there.”