Planning Board continues discussion on employment

Wil Petty

May 4, 2014

The Ashe County Planning Board met on Thursday, May 1 to continue its discussion of employment from the previous week.

Also attending the meeting was Ashe County Manager Sam Yearick, who provided his insight on the discussions, which also touched on what abilities the Planning Board has to promote growth in the county and the situation on employing an economic development director.

“There is only so much the Planning Board can do to help with jobs,” said Planning Director Adam Stumb. “But we’re looking into the land use plan to see what recommendations we can make.”

Focusing on job growth, Stumb said the Planning Board has been looking into future areas that could be served throughout the county by water and sewer, including the potential of Todd and the potential of Watauga County moving water and sewer to the Deep Gap area to promote industrial growth near the Ashe and Watauga border.

Yearick said having available buildings complete with water and sewer is among the most important items when it comes to potential employers into a county or region.

“Not only do (employers) look at (bringing jobs) that way, but they also look to see how you fit geographically with your neighbors,” he said.

Stumb and Yearick said that most flat areas of the county where water and sewer could be entered to help provide that incentive were in Jefferson and West Jefferson, where most of the largest employers are already located. The one exception was United Chemi-Con, which has its own water and sewer facility.

In addition, companies look more for incentives and if there is a workforce meets the skill set they are seeking. For instance, Yearick said a coal company wouldn’t come to North Carolina, because there is no coal in the area.

Also, Yearick said employers don’t specifically look at county lines as much as they look at regions.

Board member Arvil Scott gave the example of having a workforce familiar with the skill sets used at Leviton helped attract GE to Ashe County.

“What (GE) was looking for, they wanted the numbers of technically-trained skill sets in Ashe County,” he said.

Also, according to Yearick, employers are also looking at social issues when it comes to entering a new area. For instance, how important recycling is in a specific area or trying to avoid areas known for having pollution problems due to fear of taking a publicity hit.

“They are very conscientious of all of these items,” he said. “They like to see that your schools are doing well. They like to see that a community college is there. They like to see that everything in the county is one happy, coherent package.”

Board Chair Gene Hafer asked if Ashe County was doing anything in terms of having a list available of the skill sets in the county that can be provided to potential employers.

“That falls into economic development and there will soon be a person there to assemble the data,” Stumb said.

Yearick said he estimates the County of Ashe will have a new economic development director by August of 2014.

“It’s getting caught up between starting on our budget soon and we are advertising for it now, but we probably won’t really get to look at who’s applying until June,” Yearick said. “We hope to have somebody hired and somebody in place by August 1.”

Hafer asked if the Planning Board would be working in conjunction with the economic development director, to which Yearick said yes.

Ashe County’s main employers are: the Ashe Board of Education, AEV, County of Ashe and Ashe Memorial Hospital.

Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.