Often, people save the best for last. However, at the Thursday, August 23 meeting of the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance (GCEDA), it was actually the worst news that was saved for last.
Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President Brent Christensen gave an update on recent economic development events as the meeting wrapped up, and it was only at the very end of his presentation that he brought up the fact that VF Corp. is moving its global headquarters from Greensboro to Denver.
Ever since VF’s departure was announced earlier this month, area leaders have been trying to put a positive spin on that negative event – and Christensen made a valiant attempt to do the same at Guilford Technical Community College’s Cameron Campus in Colfax where the GCEDA Leadership Group met with the GCEDA Business Advisory Council. That council consists largely of business executives, business owners and other community leaders.
“We believe it’s a net-neutral announcement for our market,” Christensen said.
He pointed out that a newly formed jeans-wear spin-off company from the VF Corp reorganization will be located in Greensboro, so, he said, Greensboro will lose one Fortune 500 headquarters but gain another.
Christensen also said the change shouldn’t mean a job loss for the area overall.
“We’ll lose 85 jobs to Denver but will also gain about 85 jobs,” he told the group, adding that those new jobs would come largely from current VF operations in Mississippi.
“I’d say at worst we’re looking at net-neutral,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re looking at maybe net-positive, as that jeans-wear company, that is yet to be named, comes to our market.”
Christensen said he believes VF’s business model calls for Greensboro to be “a big part of VF’s future.” He said this move had more to do with VF Corp. clustering its outdoor brands into one location than it did with anything regarding Greensboro or Guilford County.
Christensen told the GCEDA members that this area doesn’t get as many “office looks” from prospective major tenants as it deserves, but Guilford County is starting to see more of that. He said that activity bodes well for the future despite the loss of VF’s headquarters.
He said he’d spoken with VF Corp. President & CEO Steve Rendle, who offered to put in a good word for Greensboro and Guilford County if it was needed.
Christensen said Rendle told him, “I don’t want anybody to get any negative impressions of our market – in terms of office capabilities – from this announcement, so if I need to make a call to someone to let them know how good we feel about this Triad market, I would be happy to do so.’”
While it’s understandable that the area’s elected leaders and economic development officials want to stay positive despite the loss of VF’s headquarters, the move is a big blow to the area. While the number of jobs may remain roughly the same, those new jobs will pay much less on average than the lost jobs – and then there’s the undeniable fact that Greensboro and Guilford County will lose the notoriety that comes with being the home of the headquarters of a huge worldwide corporation that’s been doing exceedingly well in recent years.
There was also some good news for Guilford County that Christensen discussed at the meeting: He highlighted FedEx’s addition of 400 jobs in the area and the coming distribution center in Kernersville that could add over 900 jobs. Christensen didn’t call it an Amazon distribution center since nothing has been officially announced yet.
While it’s good that the economy is doing well, many business leaders who spoke at the meeting said a common concern is finding qualified workers since they are now in such high demand.
Teresa Huffman, vice president of human resources at Culp Inc. said it was important to provide area students with manufacturing and trade skills and she added that the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP) – which gives on-the-job training to students interested in certain trades – was doing important work training the area’s future workforce.
“I’m really strong on schools, and this partnership with GTCC is just phenomenal,” she said. “If you’re not familiar with GAP, these kids can get a free education and get paid to go to school.”
GTCC President Randy Parker, who serves on GCEDA’s Advisory Council, said the community college’s new Advanced Manufacturing Center should help meet the area’s demand for skilled workers.
He also pointed out that the brand new center would host a business summit held by the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce in October.
“We are really excited about it,” Parker said of the large new GTCC facility meant to train workers for auto and aircraft industries and other manufacturing trades.
Parker also pointed out that the State of North Carolina has raised the minimum pay for state employees to $15 an hour, or about $31,000 a year.
“That’s going to have an impact on everybody,” Parker said, adding that the state’s move will increase pressure on the private sector to increase wages.
Parker also said that he’d spoken to several business owners and business leaders who said they were losing employees because they were getting “50 cents more an hour somewhere else.”
At the GCEDA meeting, High Point Economic Development Corp. President Loren Hill unveiled a big box of goodies and treats – GCEDA swag – which is part of the group’s “You Can Make It Here” campaign. Hill said the alliance is sending the boxes to site consultants nationally “to remind them of who we are and to get their attention.”
Hill said the package will be sent in a clear wrapping so that the box’s colorful graphics will get the attention of site consultants when it shows up on their desk.
The box includes a toy model of a Thomas Built Buses’ bus, a squeeze version of another bus, other items representative of local businesses and some tasty snacks. For instance, it contains a bag of a coconut chip treat with chia, sunflower and pumpkin seeds mixed in – all organic.
Hill said that other items will be added but the example he passed around was meant to give the members a good idea of what GCEDA would be sending out to site selectors.
The package also includes some information about Guilford County and the benefits of locating a business here.
Darlene Leonard, a partner with Smith Leonard Accountants & Consultants, and the current chair of GCEDA, joked that she wanted to sample some of the treats, but Hill told her he needed to keep everything intact since this was just a display box.