Stanly County, North Carolina
Water, air, land, success
Business View Magazine interviews representatives from Stanly County, North Carolina, as part of our focus on best practices of American towns, cities, and counties.
The site of modern-day Stanly County was originally inhabited by small tribes of hunter-gatherers and mound builders whose artifacts and settlements have been dated back nearly 10,000 years. Large-scale European settlement of the region came in the mid-18th century via two primary waves: immigrants of Dutch, Scots-Irish, and German descent moved from Pennsylvania and New Jersey seeking enhanced religious and political tolerance; while immigrants of English backgrounds came to the region from Virginia and the Cape Fear River Basin in Eastern North Carolina. The county was named for John Stanly of New Bern, who served several terms in the North Carolina House of Commons and two terms in the United States House of Representatives.
Today, Stanly County is home to approximately 64,000 people and has earned a reputation as a sought-after place to work, live, and grow a company. Although the County is miles away from urban sprawl, this business-friendly region is only 30 minutes from Uptown Charlotte, has a well-trained and affordable workforce, a low cost of doing business, one of the lowest property tax burdens in the region, and easy access to major metropolitan areas, international airports, and the ports of Charleston and Wilmington.
Stanly County also has a robust industrial base. “We’ve had three really nice announcements in the first half of the year,” says Candice Boyd Lowder, the Director of the County’s Economic Development Commission. “Fiberon, located in New London, announced a $20 million expansion in May. Charlotte Pipe and Foundry, which is currently headquartered in Charlotte, will be relocating their foundry operations to Oakboro – that’s a $325 million, 400-job project, which will be a transformational project for western Stanly, and Albemarle-based, Nabell USA, also announced in May they would be adding 15 jobs and investing an additional $2.9 million in their existing facility.” Nabell USA Corporation is a leading manufacturer of custom bellows and protective covers for a variety of applications including: optical, medical, machine tool, material handling, clean room, semi-conductor, amusement, and many others.
“In terms of industrial properties, we have several industrial parks – a couple are privately-owned, and two are publicly-owned,” Lowder adds. “The Albemarle Business Center (ABC) is a 282-acre park the City of Albemarle has developed for large industrial projects.” The publicly-owned, master-planned manufacturing and distribution ABC is conveniently located adjacent to North Carolina Routes 24/27 and U.S. Route 52. The site is well served by water, sewer, natural gas, electric, and broadband fiber access.
“The County also has its own Riverstone Industrial Park, located in Stanfield,” Lowder continues. “We’re focusing our efforts on the front 42 of 76 acres. The County has invested over $1 million in infrastructure at Riverstone – water, sewer, and an entrance road. We have a full infrastructure that is available and ready to connect; and we’re aggressively marketing the park for manufacturing projects.”
When it comes to incentivizing businesses to locate in Stanly County, Lowder explains, “We can fully evaluate the needs of each project, because every company is different. There may be land needs; there may be highway needs; there may be workforce development programs that are needed to train or upskill their existing workforce. So, we really dig in with the company fairly early on to assess their needs and see if there are local or state programs that can help meet some of those needs.”
In order to meet some of those growing needs, Lucas notes that several major infrastructure projects are in the works. “We are in the process of renovating our existing wastewater treatment plant in the western part of the County, where we’re experiencing the highest growth,” he reports. “That plant was initially rated at 900,000 gallons a day, but right now, we’re only able to provide treatment to about 650,000 gallons a day. We bought it a couple of years ago from another entity, a local government, and due to it falling into disrepair, we’ve been working to have engineers give us the scope of the project.
“We just put it out to bid and we’ll be spending about $6 million to renovate that plant to be able to get to 1.2 million gallons per day, which will, essentially, double its capacity. And we just issued another RFQ to take that plant from 1.2 million gallons to 2.5 million gallons, because we know that by the time we get done with the 1.2 million-gallon renovation – hopefully by this time next year, or in the fall of 2021 – the way the housing growth and commercial growth is occurring in the western part of the county, we’re going to be very close to maxing out the capacity of that 1.2 million gallons. Obviously, sewer is a big deal from a development perspective because you can’t have the dense growth and the commercial growth without sewer. So, that sewer project is our number one project at this point. We’ve got some other water and sewer projects that we’re working on; we’ve got a water distribution project that we’re putting together that will likely be somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 miles of water line in different areas of the County. That project will likely be in the neighborhood of a $7-8 million project.”
Enhanced road access is also on the agenda, as Lucas believes it’s important to have fast and efficient highway connections to neighboring cities, such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham, and Fayetteville. “Currently, the Department of Transportation has a major highway expansion project in Stanly County, which is one of the few counties in North Carolina that does not have a four-lane, restricted access highway transversing the entire county,” he explains. “We do have four-lane access in the central and western part of our county, but we don’t have four-lane access through the entire county. But the State is working on a road expansion project – grading and civil work has already started, moving power lines, and things of that nature. Within the next two to three years, we’ll have a four-lane road that will transverse our entire county. It will help with transportation and logistics and just make us more accessible, so we’re extremely excited about that investment by the State in our community.”
Two other critical construction projects are under the purview of the county’s two post-secondary educational institutions: Pfeiffer University and Stanly Community College. “Pfeiffer University’s main campus is located in Misenheimer, which is in the northern part of our county,” says Lowder. “They are close to finishing the construction of a downtown Albemarle facility, which will host their Health Sciences programs. We’re real excited about that because it will be transformational for our Five Points area, which is located in downtown Albemarle.”
One of Pfeiffer’s two new graduate health sciences programs is for physician assistants and the other is for occupational therapy. Once fully developed, these programs are expected to matriculate several hundred students. Not only will the new Health Sciences Center provide educational opportunities and better healthcare to a large, underserved rural population, it will help boost economic development in historic Downtown Albemarle. As part of its redevelopment plan for downtown, the City has a plan in place to repurpose the old 27,000-sq.-ft. historic Hotel Albemarle to provide 31 apartments and office/retail space that will be walking distance to the classrooms. This historic building conversion, alone, will be an investment of $8,500,000, while the Center, itself, will be an investment of $15,000,000. Also, plans are in place to assist building owners to convert empty second-story space and other underutilized buildings into apartments, retail, and business space. “With the infusion of 200-plus college students and 30-plus faculty and staff, you’re going to have even more folks demanding restaurants, and retail, and the like,” Lucas notes. “So, there’s going to be a significant demand for housing and mixed-use types of developments to meet that need. So, we’re extremely excited about the vibrancy that’s going to bring to downtown Albemarle.”
Lowder relates that the County Commissioners have recently committed to a new trade facility at Stanly Community College, also in Albemarle, with a satellite campus in Locust. “Because of the number of students and high demand for trade programs, they have outgrown their existing advanced manufacturing space,” she states. There will be programs in such areas as advanced manufacturing, welding, automotive repair, industrial technology, electronics, computer programming, CNC machining, masonry, wiring, HVAC , and megatronics, which unites the principles of mechanics, electronics, and computing.
Lucas adds, “We’re currently in the process for getting a contract in place for the initial design of a new 40,000-sq.-ft. facility to house those programs. It will take about eight months to design and do the construction drawings and get it out to bid. We believe by this time, next year, we’ll have broken ground on that facility, and it will take about 12-18 months to build. So, in late 2022, we envision being able to occupy that new space.”
Apart from this vibrant construction activity, Stanly County also has much to recommend as a place to enjoy some of North Carolina’s natural abundance and scenic beauty, as well as partake of some of its robust recreational amenities. The county panorama includes 10,000 acres of lakes, a mountain range, several vineyards, golf courses, bike and whitewater trails, urban farms, and parks and preserves. Residents and tourists, alike, flock to Morrow Mountain State Park for hiking, camping, paddling, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, or just taking in scenery on one of the highest points in the piedmont. More than 15 miles of hiking trails and 16 miles of bridle trails thread the park, reaching from the summit of Morrow Mountain to Lake Tillery, where a boathouse offers canoes and rowboats for rent and bait for fishing. A family campground with 106 sites for tents, trailers, and RVs is close by a swimming pool with bathhouse. Group camping, remote backpack camping, and rustic vacation cabins give more choices for extended stays.
“Morrow Mountain State Park is a great tourism driver for our community,” says Lowder. “And we have a very active Convention and Visitors Bureau. They actively promote our outdoor activities.” One new recreational offering is the Carolina Tree Top Challenge, a small, family-owned business which began operations last year. The Tree Top Challenge is an aerial park featuring a series of ropes courses and zip-lines high among the trees in the City of Albemarle’s Rock Creek Park. “That has been very well-received by visitors coming in from out of town,” she adds.
“One of the other things that we have from an agri-tourism perspective in Stanly County is four muscadine wine vineyards. It’s a pretty robust industry in North Carolina,” says Lucas. “They also attract a lot of folks throughout the region. And all those venues host a lot of weddings, and any time you have a wedding, you have a lot of out-of-town guests. So that helps to put ‘heads in beds,’ as well, to help fuel our economy. So, the vineyards are a big piece of the puzzle.”
Stanly County also has a high quality of life with many different housing options for its residents. “We have a lot of variety,” says County Manager, Andy Lucas. “If folks want to live in an historic downtown, we’ve got that in Albemarle, the county seat. We have plenty of opportunities for lake living, being bordered on one entire side of the county with lakes. If you want a large tract of land and have sort of a mini-farm, we’ve got those opportunities. If you want more of a suburban type of feel, we have those in Locust. So, we can, pretty much, meet everybody’s needs out here – on the “right side” of the Charlotte region.”
Summing up: Stanly County, North Carolina is an excellent place to open a business. It offers generous land tracts, ample infrastructure-ready sites, competitive incentive packages, lower utility rates and taxes, a seasoned and affordable workforce, and convenient access to the Carolinas and beyond. Add to that a cooperative county government and a desirable lifestyle with excellent schools, a low cost of living, and vibrant recreational amenities, and one has to wonder why anyone would want to choose to live, work, and play anywhere else.
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Stanly County, North Carolina
WHAT: A county of 64,000
WHERE: Central North Carolina, east of Charlotte