Feature Article for 1993-1994 Piedmont Triad Newcomer
The Piedmont Triad’s economic profile presents a study in contrasts. Manufacturing forms the region’s economic infrastructure, with service industries coming on strong, particularly in the urban areas. At the same time, among the mid-sized and small towns and the hundreds of picturesque communities—some little more than wide places in the road—it is still possible to find working family farms not unlike those of centuries ago.
Recognized in 1992 as the nation’s second-fastest growing metropolitan area for new manufacturing plants and fifth fastest for expansions, the Piedmont Triad’s business community is working hard, both individually and collectively, to heat up the region’s economic climate even more in the coming years.
In addition to serving established businesses in their respective communities, area chambers of commerce offer potential corporate newcomers information packages filled with slick brochures. Most areas now also have economic development offices specializing in recruiting new business to their particular part of the Piedmont Triad.
Efforts to encourage a cooperative regional approach to economic development are being led by the Piedmont Triad Partnership. Established two years ago to market, advertise and promote the entire 11-county area, the group maintains a computerized data center to provide instant access to economic development information about the region.
Also supporting the cooperative approach to economic development, the Piedmont Triad Chambers of Commerce Group is a business advocate organization whose members include representatives from chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus and economic development organizations from all 11 counties. Its mission is to promote the unity and prosperity of the Piedmont Triad region through regular communication and joint programs to resolve issues of regional interest.
The Piedmont Triad Partnership emphasizes the Piedmont Triad’s central location in the state, its friendly business environment and advantages like a highly productive labor force, an outstanding transportation network, custom-designed cooperative training programs for industry and a quality of life that’s second to none. Other selling points include low-cost labor and utilities, and favorable tax rates. Ironically, much of the strength of the regional approach to economic development in the Piedmont Triad comes from the diversity of individual counties within the region. No matter what a potential business newcomer is looking for, chances are those conditions exist in at least one of the 11 counties.
With two of the Triad’s three anchor cities, Greensboro and High Point, within its boundaries, Guilford is the most densely populated and urbanized of the 11 counties.
As one of Fortune magazine’s 1992 Best Cities For Business, cited for “moderate overall costs and high quality of life,” Greensboro has fared well in recent years despite the sluggish national economy. During 1992 alone, more than a dozen major business newcomers joined with a number of expanding businesses to fuel Greensboro’s accelerating economic engine.
In High Point, the twice-yearly International Home Furnishings Market brings an average of 65,500 visitors to the area who spend nearly $200 million, not including the furniture they order while in town. In addition to the furniture industry, development in such industries as textiles, apparel, machinery, food and tobacco broaden High Point’s economic base.
Winston-Salem in Forsyth County completes the Triad’s civic triumvirate. In recent years, after a series of blows to the area economy in the late 1980s, the city has rebounded with a number of economic expansions and relocations.
Built on tobacco and textiles, Winston-Salem is now gaining economic strength through diversification. The county’s up-and-coming industries include health care, financial services, apparel, transportation, computer-related services, electrical/industrial equipment and education.
Future growth will be shaped by Common Vision, a community and economic development plan to recruit 1,000 new jobs to the area each year, enhance the area as a desirable business location, expand the inventory of available sites, increase the number of service and professional jobs, foster the film industry, develop a graduate engineering research center and make the work force more competitive.
Davidson County rests on an economic base comprised of more than 300 manufacturing facilities, producing furniture, textiles, machinery, ceramics and glass.
While the northern part of the county has more than its share of commuters, most residents of Lexington, Thomasville and Denton enjoy living and working within the small-town atmospheres of their communities.
At North Carolina’s geographic center, Randolph County occupies the southeast corner of the Piedmont Triad. As Walter Sprouse, director of the county’s Economic Development Corporation, sees it, diversity is the county’s primary economic claim to fame.
“We’re very blessed with a diversification of industry,” said Sprouse. “As a result, Randolph County did not feel the effects of the recent recession as much as many other counties in the state. If we have a downturn in any one segment of industry, it’s not as devastating to us.”
Among the products associated with Randolph County are traditional pottery, Black & Decker toaster ovens and coffee makers, Knorr soups and sauces, plastic housings for IBM computers and keyboards, Eveready batteries, Goodyear tires, Luck’s beans and Abilene boots. Five NASCAR race teams are based in Randolph County, and the largest town, Asheboro, is home to the state zoo.
According to Jack Starnes of the Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce, “A lot of people tell us we’re the best-kept secret in North Carolina.”
Positioned on the eastern edge of the Piedmont Triad, Alamance serves as a buffer between the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill Triangle and the Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point Triad. Far from feeling caught in the middle, Starves said this central location is the primary selling point for Alamance County, followed by the county’s blend of rural living with easy access to urban amenities.
Among the products manufactured in the county are fishing lures, country ham, computer circuit boards, steel guitars, structural steel, ballpoint pens, vacuum and industrial hose, instant tea and soft drinks.
Roche Biomedical Laboratories’ 207,000-square-foot Burlington facility makes it the world’s largest clinical laboratory.
Textiles have long been a driving economic force in Rockingham County, with diversification gaining momentum as the area continues to attract a growing number of other industries.
In 1992, new or expanding businesses invested nearly $118 million in Rockingham County, creating more than 1,000 jobs. Much of the county’s population of 85,000 is concentrated around Eden and Reidsville, with a heavy concentration of residents along the county’s western border.
Small family farms join with 1,000-plus-acre agribusinesses to dominate the economy of Yadkin County, producing livestock, poultry, grains, tobacco and other agricultural products. While agriculture generates more than $40 million per year in the county’s economy, the industrial economy is growing. The county’s five municipalities, Arlington, Boonville, East Bend, Jonesville and Yadkinville, serve as centers for the county’s 31,000 population.
With a traditional economic reliance on hosiery, apparel, blankets and textiles, Surry County has more recently grown to rely on industries including furniture, small appliances, wire products, precision measuring devices, granite and wood products, food processing, and general and electrical contracting. The county’s largest towns are Elkin and Mount Airy.
North of Forsyth County, Stokes County has preserved much of its bucolic atmosphere, with approximately 90 percent of its 37,900 population classified as rural and only 10.9 percent considered urban.
While major employers, including Kobe Copper, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Cross Creek Apparel, are within Stokes County, nearly half the county’s 18,591 workers commute to work outside the county.
King is Stokes County’s largest town. Historic Danbury is the county seat.
On the Piedmont Triad’s southwestern edge, Davie County relies on manufacturing, commercial and service industries to maintain its economic stability and growth. In the past decade, the county has experienced substantial population growth, especially along its eastern border with Forsyth County.
Mocksville is the county’s largest town.
The least urbanized of the Piedmont Triad’s 11 counties, Caswell County’s strengths lie in its unblemished natural landscape and its more than 300 historically significant sites, many clustered around the towns of Yanceyville and Milton. Agriculture is a primary industry in Caswell, with manufacturing providing employment for nearly one-third of the county’s 10,000 workers.
The remaining 70 percent of the county work force enjoys the best of both worlds, commuting to work in nearby urban areas while making their homes in Caswell’s relatively pastoral setting in the northeast corner of the Piedmont Triad.
While the service sector will undoubtedly continue to grow, the 11 counties of the Piedmont Triad clearly recognize their traditional strength as a manufacturing center and will continue to build accordingly.
Healthy competition among the 11 counties will continue to spur economic development, but the region’s business leaders have also demonstrated in recent years that they clearly understand the benefit of cooperation.
“One for all and all for one” could easily become their motto as they join forces with increasing frequency to promote the region’s diverse offerings.
After years playing also-rans in the economic development race with Charlotte and the Triangle areas, the Piedmont Triad seems increasingly determined to gain on their arch-rivals and, perhaps someday soon, to take the lead.
And, with their traditional local approaches to economic development now rejuvenated by their new regional orientation, Piedmont Triad business leaders clearly have more reason than ever before to be optimistic about their prospects for a bright economic future.
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