Preparing an Industrial Site

Our January and February editorials focused on the recruitment process. As we discussed, it can be a huge boon to a County to land a large project but it isn’t as quick or easy as it seems. As a local economic development agency we have to focus on how to increase our odds for success.

As part of our current action plan, which can be viewed at, a large priority under the Recruitment pillar is to work on the development of industrial sites. This includes identifying potential sites for future development; increase staff training on strategies around site development; look for partnerships to develop existing and new sites; and expand and enhance our broker network.

What goes into the identification and development of an industrial site? We often hear folks say, “We have a lot of land in Burke County,” but just because a large tract of land is available does not mean it will make a good industrial site.

There are three very important factors when determining whether a site is useful for industrial development. The first is infrastructure. Does the site currently have the water, power and gas needed to support industrial use? If it does not, could it affordably be brought to the site? Is there fiber and heavy electric infrastructure available and if not is it easily obtainable?

This is important to consider upfront because the cost of getting infrastructure to a site is very expensive and time consuming. Increasingly, companies are looking for sites that are “shovel ready”. They want to be able to build as soon as they close on a deal and do not want to wait six months to a year to have utilities ran to a site.

The second factor is topography. When dealing with a site that is 100+ acres and has to be graded, geology becomes very important. In our part of the state many large tracts of land either have huge amounts of rock or are in a flood plain. All of these factors have to be evaluated to ensure the property will allow for the construction of a large industrial building. Hitting rock at three feet can add huge costs to the creation of a shovel ready site and need to be vetted early in the process.

The third factor is accessibility to road infrastructure. This need can vary based on what user is looking at the site or how your community plans to market the site. For example, if you plan to market the site as a potential distribution center then clients will want the property located very close to a major interstate quality road.

Other factors – like cost and what surrounds the property – follow these top three variables. In general, what the site will be marketed as should be determined in the very beginning. For example, if a community wants to recruit a data center then proximity to a major interstate will not be as important; however, having infrastructure – including fiber – will be critical.

Some communities outline the type of industry they want to bring and prepare sites to meet those needs, like a data center. Other communities have available sites that are assets and then build a marketing plan around what that site is conducive to.

Burke County currently has three industrial sites that are viable and are actively being marketed. These sites are workable in the short term because they are either “shovel ready” or only need one or two improvements to become shovel ready.

These are the Cline Industrial park property located in Hildebran, which is shovel ready; the Stillwell site in Morganton, which needs to be graded; and the Burke Business Park on Kathy Road, which needs gas infrastructure. Some of these hurdles are easier to overcome than others; however, BDI is actively working to improve these sites and find a suitable use for them.

There are additional sites in the County that are what BDI considers to be more long-term opportunities. These are sites that need some significant improvements. They might have environmental issues or require millions of dollars of investment to be fully served with the appropriate infrastructure. We still market these sites to the state, site consultants and other partners but know that it might take many years and a lot of capital to make them viable.

It is also part of BDI’s role to continue to look for additional, new sites that meet some or all of these parameters. In doing so we look for sites that are at least 100 acres, which might mean bringing multiple parcels together, and are sites that already have all of these factors or could easily be developed to meet all of the criteria.

Like much of our work in economic development there are no easy answers or quick fixes. It is our job at BDI to continuously work to improve our industrial sites and actively market them. Perhaps the most important job is to maintain relationships with the key stakeholders and organizations that can help make all of that possible.