In the five years that Mark Ward has served as Scotland County Economic Development Manager, he has seen an increase in the number of businesses interested in the area.
âWe’ve had announcements every year since we’ve been here, whether it’s an expansion or a new business,â Ward said. “We know our growth is going to come from within.”
The County of Scotland is home to several companies that make auto parts, including FCC, which has around 450 workers at two sites in North Carolina.
Now Ward says the county is trying to attract aircraft manufacturers and distribution centers.
Laurinburg-Maxton Airport has just received $ 8 million from the Aviation Division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation to increase its runway from 6,500 to 8,500 feet, making it the eighth longest runway in the state. The airport changed its name to Southeastern Regional Airport Authority after receiving the money.
âThe reason for the name change is that we wanted to make sure it doesn’t just serve the county of Scotland,â Ward said. “This airport, when it sees the growth it has, has the capacity to serve the County of Richmond, the County of Scotland, the County of Robeson and the County of Hoke.”
The airport could become a logistics distribution center like the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston, Ward said. Scotland County Airport has between 600 and 700 acres that could be turned into an industrial park, he added.
Scotland County Manager Kevin Patterson said there are plenty of site-ready locations for business. A number of properties have infrastructure on or adjacent to them, which facilitates the use of high speed internet, electricity, natural gas, water and sewage.
The US 74, which runs from Tennessee to the coast of North Carolina, brings more businesses, including retail options, to the County of Scotland. During the coronavirus pandemic, five franchised retail establishments opened in Laurinbourg.
âWith 74, we’re definitely seeing an increase in traffic with some distribution facilities,â Ward said. âWe are halfway between Charlotte and Wilmington.
The biggest company to arrive in Scotland recently was Chick-fil-A, which opened in February 2020, he said.
Dunkin ‘Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, Planet Fitness and Fore’s Family Restaurant, a local franchise, also opened in the county of Scotland last year.
Starbucks and Firehouse Subs have submitted building permits, Ward said.
âWe really didn’t think Chick-fil-A and Starbucks would ever come, but it’s 74. They aren’t worried about 38,000 people in the county of Scotland,â Ward said of the new businesses. . “They are worried that 30,000 people make 74 round trips every other day.”
The proximity to Interstate 95 is also a plus for the county, Patterson said.
“We’re less than two hours from 5 million people in North and South Carolina, so that’s a pretty wide distribution of the market, as well as there are a lot of other industrial sites that a supplier can easily. locate here and power a number of major industries, âPatterson said.
As the county continues to grow and attract new people, Ward said the biggest hurdle is housing.
Since October 2020, Ward said, the county has seen more permits for new homes than in the past six years.
âYes, the town of Laurinburg and the county have great water and sewerage capacities, but we currently have a housing shortage,â Ward said.
ATTRACTING YOUNG RESIDENTS
Another challenge is what Ward calls “the brain drain”. When young people leave the county to go to university, they often do not return.
âWe’re trying to figure out how we can get these people to stay here,â Ward said.
With more retail to come, he’s hopeful the younger generation will have more to do and a reason to stay or come back, Ward said.
St. Andrews University, a private liberal arts college in Laurinbourg, is experiencing growth that Ward hopes will help the county. He said most of the school’s students are from out of state and some are international.
“Hopefully we can get some of these students to stay in the county and then we’ll just keep working in other areas to see what we can do to continue to attract the talent we need,” Ward said.
Richmond Community College offers a popular commercial driver’s license program at its Scotland County campus, said Holly Russell, director of program development at RCC.
Patterson said there were 800 jobs to be filled in the county of Scotland. They cover a wide range, from minimum wage jobs to maintenance, information technology, law enforcement and healthcare.
Helping people understand that they can get a good job and be successful is one way to tackle the workforce challenges in the county, he said.
“We want the people of Scotland to be richer at the end of the year than they were at the start,” said Patterson.
But workers must have the skills to meet the needs of the new businesses that arrive.
âWe are trying to find ways to develop our local workforce so that they are ready to expand quickly in any type of facility,â Patterson said.
The County of Scotland Economic Development Corporation, run by Ward, recently partnered with the community college to provide personalized job training and a facility where any industry in the county can train their employees.
âWe worked closely with the economic development program to try to recruit new industries,â said Leighton Bell, program development director at the school.
While he doesn’t see a company like Amazon opening a fulfillment center in a place like the county of Scotland, he would like to see companies with 200 or 300 workers, Ward said. And he would like existing businesses to grow.
âWe’re going to help them when that happens,â Ward said. âThis is what I really focus on: how do we retain our customers that we have received? “