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Sec. Crisco Visits Wilkes

N.C. Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco emphasized the importance of unity among a community’s elected bodies in efforts for economic development when he spoke Wednesday at the Stone Family Center for Performing Arts in North Wilkesboro.

Crisco also emphasized the increasing competitiveness of economic development, particularly in incentives offered to companies.

He said that with the Wilkes Economic Development Corp.’s new revolving loan program and other initiatives funded with private donations, Wilkes is starting to become a model for what should happen to secure economic growth.

“But more importantly, it is working together as a community,” including members of different local elected boards cooperating with each other for the good of all, said Crisco.

“The superstars in economic development, and this is the real secret, are the ones that combine all the disciplines. You’ve got a great economic developer (Jeff Garstka) and many other counties have great economic developers.”

He said the mistake some communities made is hiring an economic developer and sending that person out without enough support from elected officials. “What works very well is that you hire a quality person and then a county commissioner or group of county commissioners end up being his or her team.”

He said this included having elected officials personally accompany the economic developer. For example, said Crisco, four North Carolina counties planned to have non-professionals on their teams going to an air show in Paris, France, to pursue aviation-related companies.

When a county’s economic developer can say, “this is my commissioner,” something magic happens, he said.

Companies come to North Carolina because of its educational system, its incentives, the ability of related communities to work together, quality of life and good workforce, Crisco added.

In particular, he said, North Carolina’s community colleges and their customized workforce training program give the state a competitive advantage. “We do that the best of anyone in the nation.”

He said traditional industries like textile manufacturing in North Carolina are being transformed to produce more high tech products.

He cited Ray Hinson, who is producing a highly durable yet soft textile material for surgical rooms and other hospital uses in the Maine Brand manufacturing plant in Wilkesboro, as an example. Hinson attended the meeting Wednesday.

He said there is optimism about future growth of the furniture manufacturing industry in North Carolina, partly due to rising transportation costs with goods produced overseas. Crisco said the best potential was with furniture manufacturing requiring skilled labor.

As for economic development sites, Crisco said having land graded and ready for construction rather than constructing a spec building allowed for greater flexibility with potential employers.

Crisco said he was painfully aware of it being a tough time to be North Carolina secretary of commerce, but he noted that the state’s unemployment rate was 11.2 percent when Gov. Perdue appointed him in 2009 and was 9.7 percent now. “We are making progress,” he said.

Crisco said North Carolina still ranked well in the nation as a place to do business and that the state’s population increased during the recession.

“Last week we were ranked number two in the nation for “business climate” in CO Magazine, with Texas being number one, he said. “We are bringing good companies I think and good companies are growing in North Carolina.”

He said over 65,000 jobs and about $15 billion in investments have been announced in North Carolina in the last 2½ years, “but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Crisco, a Stanly County native, was president and chairman of textile supplier Asheboro Elastics Corp. when he was named secretary of commerce. Crisco spoke here after being invited by Garstka. It was his first visit in Wilkes since becoming secretary of commerce.