Could the potential for landing the next major employer in the Cape Fear region lie in Brunswick County? Local and regional economic developers say the county is well positioned to do so, with two of its mega industrial site offerings.
“There are tremendous assets and resources available in Brunswick County with some of the industrial sites,” said Bill Early, executive director of Brunswick Business and Industry Development (Brunswick BID). “The infrastructure is good, with the highways and of course, it’s important and very beneficial to have the close proximity to the port. Brunswick County is in a very strong position to compete globally for economic development projects.”
Brunswick County has several industrial parks, but its two megasites – the Mid-Atlantic Industrial Rail Park and the International Logistics Park of North Carolina – hold the capacity for a large industrial employer, upping the ante for major future investments and jobs.
A megasite is roughly defined as “a plot parcel of land over 1,000 acres that can be developed for industries and semi-industrial use,” said Kevin Lackey, business development manager for Brunswick BID.
The Mid-Atlantic park is a 1,025- acre industrial site with access to CSX rail line just miles from the Port of Wilmington, something that has been touted by economic developers as an ideal location for at-port assembly manufacturing or distribution. The Industrial Logistics Park is of similar size at 1,029 acres. Both sites are currently undeveloped, and local economic development officials are looking for funding now to develop utility infrastructure at the properties.
Each of the two megasites sits adjacent to one another near the Brunswick- Columbus County line and is divided by U.S. 74/76, with access to other major interstates, including the newly opened Interstate 140 Bypass, Early said.
“A lot of times we get companies that have parameters where they need to be three, five or 10 miles from an interstate or four-lane highway … I came from an area that had very limited access to the highways,” said Early, pictured to the right, who began his role with Brunswick BID on Jan. 2. “Being in such close proximity to Interstates 40 and 140, and then being able to get access to I-95 for your north-south routes, it just completely opens up the area for all types of opportunities.”
And while somewhat limited, the two sites also include some type of access to water and electric utilities, according to Lackey. But an ongoing effort between Brunswick BID and Columbus County economic development officials will further utility development at the two sites, growing their marketability, he said.
Efforts between the two counties are underway to add water and wastewater access to the Mid-Atlantic and International Logistic sites, as well as fiber optic cable, “capable of supporting large-scale industrial partners,” Lackey said. The project will also interconnect Columbus and Brunswick counties water systems providing back-up and redundancy during events such as natural disasters, he added.
About $2.1 million has been secured for the water utility project through a state infrastructure grant approved in August. Economic developers are seeking additional funding, and preliminary engineering and environmental studies are underway as funding sources require, Lackey said.
In looking at Brunswick County’s closest megasite competitors in North Carolina and surrounding states, there are a total of three megasites in North Carolina, two in Virginia and seven in South Carolina with access to utilities, Lackey said.
“The key is having those utilities developed [and] the infrastructure,” he said. “Aggressively pushing the development of these properties dramatically differentiates what we have, on top of being an extremely desirable area.”
The two counties working together in developing two sites simultaneously is effectively collaborating efforts to secure grants and move the project forward, he said. Initial efforts and securing funding could take about 18 months, he said, adding that no timeline has been placed on the project.
According to Steve Yost, president of North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership, the two industrial parks are currently proving to be marketable assets for the region.
There are seven active project recommendations out on the two parks combined, where the regional economic development group has been able to recommend the properties to prospective industry interests that would need what the parks have to offer, Yost said.
From those recommendations, industry sectors include companies in the automotive, distribution, metalworking or metal precision products, wood products, aerospace and advanced textiles industries, he said.
The shovel-ready sites have established asking prices on the properties and a number of potential layouts have been conceptualized with both parks to show how industries can locate and be situated at the parks, he said.
“The legwork on the development to get them to a very marketable position has been done, and so they, in my opinion, are two of the best industrial sites in North Carolina,” Yost said. “They are well-positioned. And they are being marketed and recommended to those types of companies that need major sites like this. And I have very few other areas within Southeastern North Carolina, in my region, in which we have sites of this magnitude.”
The recommendations are just an early stage of recruiting efforts. With those seven recommendations development leaders hope that “at least two or three will move ahead on the next step with interest on the parks,” he said.
“The good thing is that there is some fairly strong activity going on, on the marketing end. And we are being able to recommend and get information out on these two parks to companies and to consultants,” Yost said. “And so, at some point it’s going to lead to the location of companies in both of those parks. I think it’s just a matter of time. We are in a good economy now ... and I think that will be helpful to us in trying to accomplish that.”