Development games

Jay Adams says real estate development is a competition.

Adams, a local real estate broker, said in changing economic times in Catawba County, different areas are in a competition for development.

Right now, Adams says there’s an obvious front runner.

“It’s about which community plays the game the best,” Adams said.

“Right now, it’s pretty clear — that’s Conover.”

In recent years, Conover has had dozens of small and large businesses relocate or expand within its city limits.

Industrial and manufacturing companies like Legacy Furniture Group Inc., BSN Medical, Unitape and LEE Industries have brought the city big investments while creating hundreds of area jobs. Continued expansion surrounding the Walmart Supercenter next to the Interstate 40 interchange has also contributed to the city’s economic success.

Small businesses like Conover Tavern and La Bella Vita Salon — the city’s most recent addition — have also added to Conover’s local economic scene.

Despite seeming like the “hot” place to build in Catawba County, is the city’s busy business climate just perception, or is Conover doing something special to attract businesses?

Conover City Manager Donald Duncan thinks recent developments can be attributed to a city policy put in place 30-40 years ago.

“We don’t look at anybody and say we disagree with you or say you have a bad idea. We tell them what Conover is about, and keep the attitude that we are not afraid to fail. That’s always been the mantra of ‘the Conover way,’” Duncan said. “Our council has mandated if you come to Conover and submit plans, our obligation — no matter how many regulations have been added or what the circumstance is — we have to respond to you within 10 days.”

Customer service — along with Conover’s geographic location close to I-40, N.C. 16, the U.S. 321 corridor and U.S. 70 — are reasons Duncan thinks businesses are coming to the city.

Adams, the senior brokerage partner for Adams Commercial Real Estate Services (ACRES), agrees that the city’s up-front accommodation is helping it lead the “game” during changing times in real estate. ACRES, which is handling Conover’s economic project at Conover Station, is also responsible for much of Hickory’s retail development along Catawba Valley Boulevard.

“You engage in a conversation very quickly and one of the most valuable things to a developer is good information,” Adams said. “When you can sit down and have a rich conversation about that at the first meeting, that instills confidence and offers some certainty. It gets the ball rolling.”

While Conover has had its share of economic successes in recent years, so have other cities and towns.

Hickory has had companies like Fiserv Inc., Convergys Corp., and Turbocoating USA set up shop within its city limits — bringing millions of dollars and more than 500 jobs to the area.

Newton, too, has had recent commercial development success. In 2009, the Target Distribution Center brought about 500 jobs to the area and continues hiring today. Since then, expansion by companies like Starstedt and Magna Composites LLV have also brought money and jobs to the area.

While current commercial development in Newton or Hickory may not match Conover, local economic experts say that issue may be more perception than fact.

“It wasn’t very long ago that everyone was mad because everything was happening in Newton. Let’s not forget that,” said Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corp. “If you look at the distribution, there’s been plenty of development in Hickory and other areas as well.”

Millar said Conover has had recent opportunities because of its available building space for projects, such as attractive railroad space and warehousing for Luckey Logistics — a plastic distributor that set up shop in Conover last month.

In Newton, there’s not currently a lot of new construction, but city leaders are hopeful for the future.

The city has formed a new Business Advisory Committee that will help bring creative ideas to the table that could make Newton more conducive for new development, said City Manager Todd Clark.

Clark said the newly appointed committee will make recommendations to city council about ideas, strategies and concepts that may help bring business.

“The council is looking for innovative and creative ideas from people who have been in the business community and experienced interaction with government,” Clark said.

He agrees that Conover has had success as of late — something he said will benefit the surrounding area. He said any area development is good for the county, and future development is going to come down to three reoccurring factors — location, location, location.

“The tagline is what is good for the county is good for Newton,” he said.

“We all, as a society, have to be optimistic that the economy is going to slowly rebound and will see brighter days ahead.”

Millar agrees.

“There’s something in these projects for everybody,” Millar said.

“Labor crosses municipal boundaries. If it happens in Catawba County, there are some benefits through the Catawba County tax system that are going to flow out. It’s going to benefit everybody."