Monthly Archives: February 2016

Loray Mill Update

Seabrook Says: Occasionally, we are surprised and very pleased about how well things turn out. Lucy Penegar shares with us much of the Loray Mill story. Read it and be impressed! 

Would you be surprised to know that the apartments at Loray Mill are renting so well that all Phase I three-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments are filled? As Phase I of the project is now complete, that means all amenities for the renters are complete, outside and inside. The outdoor area includes a pool and pool house, dog park, fire pits and grills, tables and lounge chairs, a bocci court and outdoor movie screen. The indoor area includes a pool table, foozeball table, game stations, kitchen facilities, sofas, chairs, and tables.

Two model apartments, located on the main floor, are furnished to show off the look of loft space living. They contain high quality stainless kitchen appliances, stone counter tops, ceiling fans, and window shades. The majority of the apartments are on the upper floors. All are in private areas accessed by a code pad. Construction on Phase 2 will begin soon and will provide 110 more apartments, bringing the total to over 300.

The commercial space includes 100,000 square feet of glass front stores on two levels, with floor cut outs that makes the space resemble a two story mall. In a multi-use facility, the commercial spaces fill up after the apartments are full, insuring a customer base. There are several businesses talking with the developers and the Loray Athletic Center is opening soon.

This community area includes a large rental space with a 40 foot high ceiling that can seat 300 in an auditorium setting, or become a large dance venue. It has already been used for wedding receptions, reunions, and large gatherings.

The Kessell History Center is expecting a spring opening. The UNC Chapel Hill Digital Innovation Lab staff and director Bobby Allen (from Gastonia) are designing this high tech, interactive exhibit. Archivist and designer Julie Davis has been on site several months working on the center. This type of exhibit is the first of its kind and is being studied by other similar projects.

The neighborhood is also getting some much needed help. UNC Greensboro supplied a class of interior architecture students to redesign some of the early historic workers’ houses for today’s use. The students drew plans for “millennials” and the downsizing “baby boomers”. Preservation/NC has received a major loan and is looking for additional grant money. They will open a couple of model homes and look for sensitive buyers who are interested in the national “smaller house movement”. The houses will sell with protective covenants and require owner occupancy, which helps stabilize neighborhoods.

So come to the Loray Mill, especially if you were one of the skeptics, and see how this project is changing west Gastonia. If you have been a supporter, come confirm your positive “can do” attitude. It is open daily and there are special events, like Loray Live, that will help you see how fantastic this project really is!

Lucy Penegar
Founding Member
Gaston County Historic Preservation Committee

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Alliance for Growth Plan – Action and Progress

Seabrook Says: Mark Cramer and Joel Long, the GGDC’s new chairman, bring you right up to date on their work. This work is most important and deserves your staying abreast of it all. Now that you know, what will you do?

In the fall of 2014, the Greater Gaston Development Corporation (GGDC) enlisted over 100 community leaders to develop the Alliance for Growth plan. The goals of the plan were straightforward: (1) stimulate job growth, and (2) increase the County’s tax base.  A little over one year ago, the GGDC Board of Trustees prioritized the top action items in the plan’s seven strategic focus areas.  We are pleased to report on important progress on the plan’s highest priority items.

With the strong support of the business community, the Gaston-Cleveland-Lincoln transportation planning organization included a new Catawba River Crossings project in regional road plans.  The Alliance for Growth’s highest priority, this project includes new bridges across the Catawba and South Fork Rivers and related roadways connecting to New Hope Road and across the South Fork and Catawba Rivers to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.  Now in Raleigh for “scoring” under DOT funding rules, it will require determined and sustained efforts to build support for and speed up the project.

The Alliance for Growth conducted a survey that indicated the perception of Gaston County by residents, nonresidents and developers was a problem. To address this challenge, the GGDC secured governmental and private commitments of over $900,000 to fund a 3-year Image and Branding Campaign for Gaston County.  The PR, marketing and branding firm of Ferebee-Lane & Co. will conduct the campaign.  Conceptual and creative work on the campaign is now underway and the campaign should start to roll-out in the second quarter of 2016.

The Gaston County Commission has approved two important initiatives by the Gaston County Economic Development Commission that support Alliance for Growth goals. The first is the creation of a $120,000 public-private site development fund that is being used to bring high-priority sites closer to being readily developable. The second is a 50,000 to 100,000 square feet spec building now under construction in Gaston Technology Park.  Available land and spec buildings are critical to attract new business.

Outstanding progress was made during 2015 on important Alliance for Growth workforce preparedness priorities by Gaston County Schools, Gaston College, the Gaston Regional Chamber and Gaston companies.  The Career and Technical Education Oversight Committee, which included 4 business representatives, made a number of important recommendations to improve career and technical education. Gaston College started the first N.C. Community College-registered apprenticeship program in North Carolina, Apprenticeship 321, and it also broke ground on its Center for Advanced Manufacturing.  The Educators in the Workplace program launched during the summer and 20 Gaston County school teachers and guidance counselors spent 5 days learning about 8 Gaston County companies.  As 2015 drew to a close, Gaston County was named as one of only seven counties to be recognized as an NCWorks Certified Work Ready Community.

2015 also saw critical progress on establishing a hybrid business incubator and Gigabit demonstration site to stimulate Gaston County entrepreneurship, innovation and job growth.  With Gaston County committing funding of $975,000, the leadership of the Gaston Gigabit Committee and the Alliance for Growth Entrepreneur/Small Business Committee are taking the necessary steps to get the hybrid business incubator up and running.

On October 13, the Global Vision Leaders Group met in Belmont.  This first meeting outside of Charlotte brought together over 120 business, government, educational and non-profit leaders from the two-state region for discussions on how to make the Charlotte region a global leader in trade and investment. In addition, the GGDC has taken the first steps to include Gaston County in a master planning effort for development surrounding the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the greatest driver of growth in our region.

Much has been accomplished but much remains to be done. Continued progress on these and other priorities during 2016 and beyond will require even broader collaboration and deeper commitment.  Please join with the GGDC, the Alliance for Growth and our many partner organizations to move Gaston County forward.  Together, we can do this.

 

Joel Long                                                                             Mark Cramer

GGDC Chairman for 2016                                                   GGDC Executive Director

 

The Jobs War and Gaston County

SEABROOK SAYS: Our article writer today served as Superintendent of Gaston County Schools. He is semi-retired now as he continues to give to Gaston County. His subject is one that touches two hot topics: jobs and leadership.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The Coming Jobs War is a book written by Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, Incorporated. The book is a result of the findings of the Gallup World Poll which measures the thoughts and feelings of the world’s 7 billion citizens on global issues. The title of the book comes from the key finding of the World Poll. Clifton calls the finding one of the most important discoveries Gallup has ever made. That finding says that whether in Cairo, Berlin, Los Angeles, or Istanbul, the single most dominant thought on people’s minds is having a good job. The Coming Jobs War outlines what Clifton calls “an all-out war for good jobs” and his book examines America’s ability to win this war. The final chapter of the book predicts that for America “failing the coming jobs war will be easy, and winning will be hard.” The book ends, however, with the author noting that “the United States of America is an exceptional country with exceptional people” and “once again, against the odds, she must rise up and win.”

Clifton suggests that a key to winning the jobs war is meeting the challenge on a community by community basis rather than depending on state and federal solutions to create jobs and build a qualified workforce. This common sense approach recognizes the role of individual states and the federal government but puts the bulk of responsibility for winning the jobs war on local leadership. If Jim Clifton is right and local leadership is the key to job creation and building a qualified workforce, how well is Gaston County poised to face this challenge? My answer to this question is that we are in great shape to do our part! There are two primary reasons for my optimism.

First, local leadership in Gaston County recognizes the importance of job creation and workforce development in building a brighter future for our community. Our leaders have accepted this challenge. The Gaston Regional Chamber has established workforce development as a priority area. The GGDC is doing great work in promoting the image of our county. Gaston College has implemented exciting new programs like Apprenticeship 321 to impact workforce development. The local school board has invited the business community to participate in a comprehensive look at district Career and Technical Education programs. Gaston County Schools has partnered with the Gaston Regional Chamber in developing and implementing “Educators in the Workplace” which offers teachers greater insight into jobs and careers in Gaston County. Our Economic Development Commission is exploring new and innovative approaches to bring new businesses to our county and the Workforce Development Board now provides comprehensive job fair opportunities on a monthly basis. Finally, our local NCWorks office has completely revamped its efforts to help job seekers gain tools and experiences needed to find meaningful employment. All of these workforce development partners understand that business as usual will not get Gaston County where it needs to go and they are looking for better ways to meet the jobs challenge.

Second, leadership in Gaston County understands the importance of working together. This spirit of cooperation was clearly evident in Gaston County being named one of the first Work Ready Communities in NC. While other counties have struggled to meet the high standards set for this program, leaders in Gaston County combined efforts to meet and exceed each and every requirement. By working together, elected leaders, business leaders, and workforce development partners gave our community an economic development advantage enjoyed by only six other counties in our state. This spirit of cooperation will serve us well in meeting the job creation and workforce development challenges out ahead.

In closing, I would paraphrase Jim Clifton by saying, Gaston County is an exceptional county made up of exceptional people – and we will do our part in winning the war for jobs!

Reeves McGlohon
Former Superintendent
Gaston County Schools

Value of Small Business to Gaston County

SEABROOK SAYS: Here is a refreshing look at Small Business in Gaston County. You should be pleased to conclude that small business is good for the owners and good for the community. We would all do well to support our small business. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

In Gaston County’s industrial heyday, textile manufacturing was KING. A strong, supporting industry was metal working and machine shops. These locally-owned shops machined and provided replacement parts for all types of production equipment.    From replacement shafts, collars, bearing housings, spindles, motor mounts, etc., the textile mills relied on this group of small businesses to keep their machinery running so they could meet their customers shipping requirements.  This group of shop owners and their employees also provided an avenue for the design, development, and manufacture of new parts and equipment as technologies evolved.

In the early to mid-1980’s, textiles started migrating out of Gaston County and the USA. As the textile customers left, our community of small business owners were left with little or no business.  However through ingenuity, the will to continue providing jobs while meeting customer needs, and by embracing the newest in technologies many shops were creative and sought business in other sectors of the economy.  Industrial machinery manufacturing, metalworking machinery manufacturing, engines, turbines, power transmission equipment manufacturing, general purpose machinery manufacturing, and motor vehicle parts manufacturing were all potential replacements for the lost textile business.  An English language proverb “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” is certainly apropos for the county’s machine shops.

What is the Impact of Small Business on Gaston County?

The Small Business Administration has indicated that businesses with fewer than 500 employees can be considered a small business. Certainly there are quite a few small businesses in the county. In fact, the most recent Gaston County Business Statistics indicate there are 2,980 small business firms employing 29,923 with an annual payroll of $987.8 Million with an estimated revenue of $4.97 Billion. Of these 2,980 small businesses, there are 49 machine shops in Gaston County employing 3,108 individuals.  As these 49 shops grow and find new segments to provide products and services for, you may ask what is being done to support this growth.

What is being done in Gaston County?

Recognizing the importance of manufacturing as a crucial component to the growth of the region, both local and regional economic planners have identified advanced manufacturing as a key sector to target. Also, the renovation of Gaston College’s PTI building and the construction of a Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) have received strong financial support from local, state, and federal funders. Gaston County has allocated $3.3 million in county bond funding.  The Golden LEAF Foundation has contributed $500,000 towards the renovation of the PTI building and the United States Economic Development Administration has preliminarily allocated $1.5 million in support of the project.

Combined, these two projects will offer training in Computer Integrated Machining and a second Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lab as well as a Center for Advanced Welding to include orbital and plasma arc welding. The CAM will house many of the more advanced or technology-rich industrial training programs the college offers.  In addition to meeting rooms, offices, and classrooms, designated laboratory/ training spaces will include: Advanced Manufacturing (cross-training and demonstration lab), Mechatronics, Robotics, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Specialized Processing (Chemicals and Plastics), Industrial Instrumentation, Nuclear Technologies, Alternative Energy (a photovoltaic array and geothermal heating/cooling system will be incorporated into CAM.)  Once these two projects are completed, Gaston County and its base of small businesses, particularly the machine shops, will be in a better position to meet the growing and diverse needs of business and industry.

What can you do?

Continue to support our local business owners by buying their products and services and referring your friends, business associates, and neighbors to also support our local small businesses. But, do not stop there!  Encourage the existing small business owners to look at alternative avenues of revenue that may enhance their existing products and services, or, in some cases, may totally help the small business owner set a new course to a more profitable business that will hire even more of our citizens.

Brad Rivers
Director of Gaston College’s Small Business Center