“We really took a couple of major body blows in 2002, when we lost 2,200 jobs and our unemployment rate shot up to 15%,” Mark Burrows, head of the Planning and Economic Development of the Transylvania County, NC, told me as we started our tour of Brevard, NC (population 6,789). Brevard is the county seat and largest town in the county of 29,626. Transylvania means “across the woods” in Latin.
They lost a X-ray film plant (600 employees) that DuPont had started in the 50s, a high-end paper mill (1,200 employees) and a textile mill (300 employees) during that time. All were the higher paying, but sometimes lower skilled or very specialized skill set that is not easily transferable to other industries. The old DuPont plant almost was put back into production but a political glitch killed it. Only the textile mill has been able to be converted into an alternative use, a packaging plant, which has invested $20 million into new equipment and is on track to hire over 100 people.
The workers who lost their jobs (most in their 50s and 60s) would obviously like to have jobs similar to their old ones and are pushing for large scale industrial projects, in a way, hoping to reinvent the past. It isn’t going to happen! Instead the county is doing the right things to reinvent themselves as a community and as a job generator.
I believe that it is futile for a place like Brevard, NC to even try to bring in large scale industrial projects simply because they aren’t out there. As I’ve mentioned in the past, there are only 200 projects done in the USA every year with over 200 employees. The rest are smaller, more focused factory projects and are the wave of the future. In addition Transylvania County doesn’t lend itself to large scale industrial plants because of its topography in the Smokey Mountains (the eastern continental divide is only 9 miles away) and as a result, it has a very high cost of developable land. They’ve only got one nine acre site shovel ready for an industrial project.
Mark told me, “Almost half, 46%, of the county is owned by the federal or state government.” While having such a high percentage of your county in government land can be negative because of the lost property tax revenue, having so much land in forests and parkland is growing in importance with a growing portion of our society who are making decisions on where they want to live because of these natural settings. More on that tomorrow.
The county is a jewel with its topography, moderate climate, downtown, Brevard College, local hospital, growing arts focus and world renowned Brevard Music Center. The county also boosts 250 different waterfalls, more than any other county and some states in the entire USA.
Burrows has had some success in bringing in smaller, more high tech companies to the community. They don’t require as large a footprint for their facilities and hire people with more skills (and at a higher pay). His approach is on the cutting edge of what I see in the area of industrial and economic development.
Brevard is a jewel, a jewel that is changing before you eyes, in a positive way.