By Emily Willis firstname.lastname@example.org Hickory Daily Record
CLAREMONT — Although Catawba County has seen a decline in textiles, there are other industries quietly growing in places throughout the region.
Claremont, home to the International Business Park, houses a variety of industries and has seen a large amount of growth for the last five to eight years, Mayor Shawn Brown said.
“The council has a lot of involvement with the growth, whether we worked on the economic incentives with the county to get these companies here or anything else,” Brown said. “Our council is also very business-minded in recognizing that we want to see this type of growth.”
Brown was first elected to Claremont City Council in 2009 and was elected as mayor in 2013.
“This council has been very good to work with; it’s very cohesive, and our vision is very similar,” Brown added.
With the council’s eagerness to bring industries to Claremont, the Catawba Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has aided by marketing properties to various companies.
EDC President Scott Millar, who has been with the organization since 1993, can remember a time when development in Claremont was scarce.
Since the 1990s, Claremont has been one of the many places in the county to offer industries prime real estate for facilities.
As far as marketing real estate to national and international companies, Millar says his team has a three-pronged approach.
“We work with the North Carolina Economic Development Partnership (NCEDP), because people go to them naturally,” Millar said.
His team also works with various other entities similar to the NCEDP, Millar added.
“(Organizations like the NCEDP) will look across the state, and they will take the parameters that a company has provided to them and give the company tours of all the sites in the state that would fit their needs,” Millar said.
Not only can Millar depend on the NCEDP, he also has his own team conducting similar work for new and existing industries.
“We also have a contract with a company from Berlin, Germany, who is also going to trade shows and handing out our business cards,” Millar said. “They start up the conversation with European companies and tell them about the opportunities we have right here.”
Impact of economic development
Millar explained exactly how bringing industries and companies to places like Claremont is beneficial for residents.
“Most people will think that our primary purpose is job creation — what we are really after is trying to expand the tax base,” Millar said.
Services and amenities provided by municipalities costs money, and that money flows from resident’s pockets when paying taxes.
“What we try and do instead of making the tax rate go up to pay those bills, we are trying to spread the tax base among more people,” Millar said. “The concept there is that a broader tax base not only provides more job opportunities, but it also spreads the cost of services to people.”
Millar used the example of the Apple Data Center in Maiden.
“A lot of people will ask, ‘What has Apple done for Maiden?’ And we see that they have 400 employees permanently on site, for one thing,” Millar said. “They promised to spend $1 billion over 10 years — here we are seven years later and they have spent four times than what they expected.”
Since the Apple Data Center’s establishment in Maiden, the tax rate has decreased from $0.40 to $0.38, and the town has been able to make upgrades as well.
“(Maiden has) built and equipped a new fire station, a new city hall, a new police station is being constructed, and there is a new community building in that town,” Millar said. “All of that has happened in the last seven years — they did all that and still lowered their tax rate.
“This has happened with all of the industries in the county, but this example is very dramatic.”
Brown says there has been similar progress in Claremont, which can be directly attributed to the International Business Park.
“That is the one thing that I love about Claremont — yes, we are a small city, but we are able to offer services and amenities that make our residents feel that they are in a larger city,” Millar said.
Being a city of just under 1,500 residents, Brown says during a normal business day that population grows to more than 5,000.
“That’s great for the business here and everything, but it also says that we have a deficit of housing,” Brown said. “If that many people are driving into work, then I would be willing to bet that if they had the opportunity to live closer to where they work, they would.”
Brown said aside from industrial growth, the council is constantly investigating ways to increase the town’s population.
“We have the new apartments that were recently constructed with 88 units, and they are fully occupied now,” Millar said. “It’s affordable housing, and that is what people need right now.
“You can’t put all your eggs into one basket; you can’t just focus on industrial growth and nothing else.”
Creation of spec buildings
Another aspect of industrial growth in Claremont is the construction of two speculative buildings, or spec buildings.
“After 18 months of the first spec building being marketed, DAE (Dynamic Aero Engineering) is moving from California, and they plan to open next month. That is very exciting,” Brown said.
DAE is relocating to Claremont from California to better suit their needs as an aviation and aerospace company.
“It’s a neat industry to have here, and the DAE is dealing with aerospace and have government contracts and things like that and we have really learned a lot about their business,” Brown said.
With the success of the first spec building, Brown quickly approached Millar about constructing a second one in Claremont.
“(The first spec building) excited a lot of people, and we got a brand new industry out of it,” Brown said.
Millar said the second spec building, which is nearing completion, has the steel up and “the gravel is poured.”
“It won’t take long for the concrete panels to come in from Charlotte and be set up, either,” he added.
Millar estimated the second spec building will be completed by Dec. 15.
“We are starting to market it to people who want an existing facility,” he said. “There are folks who will come specifically for that brand new building opportunity.”
Success of existing companies
When discussing the success of companies who have utilized the opportunities in Catawba County for years, the first one that came to Millar’s mind was Poppelmann Plastics.
“Poppelmann Plastics is a German company that makes BMW parts and horticultural pots that are custom printed to different users,” Millar said. “They are 10 years old now and are still in a growth mode.
Millar expects Poppelmann Plastics to expand in the next two years, particularly in automotive parts.
Lorraine Kordowski, the print and labeling coordinator at Poppelmann, has been with the company since its arrival in 2009.
“I have enjoyed almost every minute of it,” Kordowski said.
Although Kordowski is a transplant to North Carolina, she has called the state home for the past 24 years.
“I love it here — I have lived all over the world, and there is no place quite like North Carolina,” she said.
Aside from her enjoyment from living in the area, Kordowski is grateful for the many things Poppelmann has provided.
“Back in 2009, the company sponsored a trip to Germany to the mother-facility,” Kordowski said.
The company paid for every employee, plus their spouse, to travel to Germany and Ital, and it was a trip of a lifetime, Kordowski said.
“We have had a major amount of people walk through the door over the years,” Kordowski said. “We started with 42 employees, and now we are over 100.
“I’ve seen a lot of new equipment come in and innovative ideas and changes.”
One of these employees is Paul Niehoff, the printing technician.
“I have been here for about seven years — I came back from the Marine Corps seven years ago, and about three months later, I joined Poppelmann,” Niehoff said.
Niehoff has called Catawba County home for his whole life, and although he did not take the Germany trip with Kordowski, he remains grateful for the opportunities given to him.
“The company has been very good to me, and I first started here with no experience and they gave me training to work my way up,” Niehoff said. “Now I have a career here, which is great.”