Apex mulls economic-development options

aramos@newsobserver.comJanuary 10, 2014 

— Over the next few months, town leaders are expected to discuss long-range plans for economic development, including the possibility of hiring someone to help lure new businesses.

Apex, which is Wake County’s third-largest town, does not have an economic development director. The town manager and public information officer are tasked with those duties.

Meanwhile, the town has one of the lowest commercial-to-residential ratios in the county.

The town took over economic-development duties from the Apex Chamber of Commerce in 2009. Since then, business recruitment and retention initiatives have had some minor successes, stalls and failures.

Mayor Keith Weatherly formed a 16-member economic task force that was appointed in 2011. The group met a few times and developed an analysis of the town’s strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. It has done little since then.

The task force now meets on a case-by-case basis, Weatherly said.

The town sent out some marketing materials to several industry leaders and re-did the economic development page on the town’s website a few years ago. The efforts generated few leads or prospects for bringing new businesses to town.

Last year, Apex partnered with the chamber to host a how-to workshop for new businesses. Both groups are working to launch an advertising program in which companies can be listed on a quarterly flyer that will be mailed with utility bills.

Having more industry would help make Apex more of a live-work community, said Town Councilman Bill Jensen, chairman of the council’s economic development committee.

“I want to promote non-residential development in Apex because we very much need it,” Jensen said.

About half of the town’s 40,000 residents have to travel outside town for work, according to Apex’s latest comprehensive plan.

New council members’ focus

Jensen said the council has made little progress to improve the town’s commercial-to-residential ratio.

Some initiatives, such as creating certified sites to lure business, have gotten some interest from the full council but haven’t come to fruition, he said.

Council members Denise Wilkie and Nicole Dozier, who were elected in November, both talked during their campaigns about the importance of economic development. Jensen said they could bring a shift for the town.

Dozier, who serves on the economic development committee, is already making changes. Her recommendation to recruit college interns to work with the town’s public information officer got the full support of the council.

“Right now we’re going to look at it on a trial basis,” Wilkie said.

She said she wasn’t sure if the town would hire a full-time economic development manager in the future. It’s a topic the council plans to take on during its annual retreat.

Town Manager Bruce Radford said he is working on an economic-development plan to present to the committee. There is no time line yet on when the plan, which will focus on new initiatives and improvements, will be ready.

Even without a long-range program in place, Apex has made some industry gains. Robotics component maker ATI Industrial Automation is doubling the size of its campus to about 129,000 square feet and expects to add up to 200 jobs by 2018.

Major site plans for a shopping center that includes a Costco have also been approved. It will be the wholesale retailer’s third store in the Triangle.

The Town Council approved its first official economic incentives policy in November 2012. The policy makes no promises of tax breaks or free help to existing and future companies, but it opened the door for negotiations and got the town listed on the Wake County Economic Development Corporate Relocation Guide.

Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews

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