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Website to create, retain jobs

March 7, 2011

Catawba County received a more than $200,000 grant to increase the visibility of its small, rural manufacturers.

The web-based program will connect small companies with potential clients through the worldwide exposure of the Internet, in the hope of creating and retaining manufacturing jobs in Catawba County.

Nathan Huret, Catawba County Economic Development Corporation's existing industry coordinator, said the program is designed to help companies with 50 employees or less who don't have the advertising dollars or the manpower to create an online presence to compete with larger companies.

The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center awarded the EDC $209,975 to create a search-engine optimized website, where consumers can reach many local manufacturing companies in one place online.

"(The idea was), 'What if we put a lot of marketing dollars and a lot of effort into a website that is search-optimized that gets people in the door?'" Huret said.

The Rural Center estimated the web-based program will create 100 jobs, retain another 250 jobs and serve 100 businesses.

Those numbers are based on a third-party's conservative estimate of how the local job market will be affected during the grant's duration.

Huret said the estimates are based on the idea that a company's increased exposure through the web-based program will increase sales and, in turn, create the need for additional workers.

"The thought is that someone in Pennsylvania will be looking for ball bearings, and they'll suddenly come across a company in Catawba," Huret said.

The grant period lasts for 30 months, but Huret said the project, if successful, should extend beyond the designated time and spread to other parts of North Carolina.

The EDC's grant-funded project includes Catawba, Burke, Caldwell and Alexander counties, which have a total population of about 365,000.

It's possible, however, for the program to spread to every county in the state.

"If (the program) has a successful transition, then that word of mouth will spread to other companies," Huret said.

The grant includes $70,101 for personnel salaries; $25,704 for student salaries; $48,600 for purchased services; $46,000 for printed collateral; $17,500 for Internet advertising; and $2,000 for travel.

Part of the grant's funding will also be used to recruit companies to participate in the program. Huret estimated it will take several months to develop the website and recruit participants.

After the 30-month grant period ends, the EDC will decided if and how the program will continue. The EDC's grant involves collaboration with the North Carolina State University Industrial Extension Service.

The Rural Center awarded 42 grants totaling $5 million for projects that create jobs in rural communities. According to the Rural Center, the grant-funded projects will serve about 240 businesses, create 670 jobs and retain an additional 700 jobs.

Other project concepts throughout North Carolina include extension of water or sewer service to expanding businesses and construction of health care facilities.

The North Carolina General Assembly appropriated funding for the grants.

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