Be There When Lightning Strikes


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Tate looks back on 10 years of selling county to industry

Andrew Tate speaks at a Partnership for Economic Development event. Andrew Tate speaks at a Partnership for Economic Development event.

Having led Henderson County’s industrial recruiting efforts since 2007, Andrew Tate agreed to an exit interview with the Hendersonville Lightning at Southern Appalachian Brewing Co.

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On his watch, the Partnership for Economic Development has recruited 15 facilities that have invested almost $800 million and hired 2,070 people.
As he’s done consistently throughout 10 years of conducting this phenomenally successful recruiting effort, he plays down his own role and praises the volunteer board members who guide the Partnership for Economic Development, the elected county commissioners who approve tax incentives for new factories and plant expansions and what he describes as an unusual spirit of cooperation that greases the machinery.
In his new job, Tate will be working on the railroad — the North Carolina Railroad — and he will still be working on economic development, on an even bigger scale than in Henderson County. His last day at the partnership is Oct. 27.
A 40-year-old father of three, Tate worked under Scott Hamilton at the Committee of 100 — the predecessor to the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development — until 2004. He returned to his hometown of Fuquay-Varina to serve as executive director of the Chamber of Commerce before coming back to Hendersonville to head the partnership.
Here’s the Lightning interview:

Any regrets?
“Oh, yeah. We’ve — I’ve made mistakes with projects, mistakes with personnel, relationships. So, yeah, lots of regrets.”

The fish that got away?
“Not so much. I can’t point to here’s where we messed up and lost the big deal. But even the ones that we won I think we could have done better or handled differently. I think sometimes in the pursuit of trying to win an economic development project it was a little too easy for me to stay so focused on the outcome that I sacrificed some of the important relationships or community dimensions.”

Was there a turning point in your efforts?
"We chased a big projection years ago called ‘Coyote.’ It was an aviation final assembly project and we were a finalist on it and we didn’t win it. Truth is, it never went anywhere, it stayed where it was. So it wasn’t a loss in the traditional sense but it was a huge exercise for our whole community. We had elected officials involved, we had board members involved, we had university officials involved. It was the first time I felt like we really exercised our whole team and saw here’s where we’ve got to make improvements” in strategy.

Under your leadership, the county earned a Duke Energy and state Commerce Department site certification that makes it easier and quicker to locate industry at Ferncliff Industrial Park. Why was that important?
“No. 1, it shows everybody involved that somebody that knows what they’re doing thinks you’re worth investing in. So when Duke Energy says we’re going to invite you to be part of this program they’re displaying confidence and your ability to pull off a win. No. 2, it makes the case more compelling for why (an industrial target) should partner with us. Everything we do is about either mitigating risk for a client or speeding things up and those two programs accomplished both of those and give us great intel so when the next client shows up we can speak with confidence about every issue that might affect the development timeline. They’ve been to two communities before they came here and they’re going to go to six more after they leave and we know now that other people stumbled with those questions. They didn’t have clarity. They didn’t have a timeline. They didn’t have a cost. They didn’t say who was going to pay for it.”

You said mitigating risk or speeding things up. You didn’t say tax incentive payments.
More often than not (with tax incentives) what we’re trying to do is level the playing field or resolve some weakness that we have in our offer. They’re a necessary tool. But nobody gets a big check.”

How big was Sierra Nevada?
“It was my first home run, right? But the thing about it for me was I was a fan of the company before we ever had a chance to chase the product. You chase ABC Widget Co. and you don’t have a consumer connection to the product. The other thing that was a home run is the fact that it combined what we were good at traditionally, which is manufacturing projects, with a company that cared about the community it’s in, made sustainability a feature of its corporate culture and — a big piece that I still love —had this manufacturing plant that made a product like anybody else but then it had this tourism/visitor/retail component, which gave you the chance to interact with this product. And to me that’s something that Western North Carolina has a unique advantage, where you can capitalize on your manufacturing sector and tourism sector in one project.”

How valuable is Sierra Nevada as a recruiting tool?
“I can’t think of a project we’ve hosted since the facility’s been open we haven’t hosted there at some point. By hosting, I mean even before it was open it was a drive-by or a walk-through or a ‘meet Stan.’ Now it’s become a lot more sophisticated with real dinners and more opportunities for interaction.” Once, when GF Linamar executives met there for a meeting, co-manager Stan Cooper walked in. “He said, ‘Let me tell you what it’s like to do business here,’ and just laid the whole thing out from the very beginning. He said, ‘They did everything they told us they’d do. They took care of us.’ And then as they were walking out (second-generation Sierra Nevada owner) Brian Grossman came out and greeted them and said, ‘We’d love to have you as neighbors.’ … Absolutely, it’s an anchor and a magnet.”

How big an issue is workforce housing?
“I think it depends on who you talk to. I know that there are several hundred units that are going to come on line in the city of Hendersonville alone in 2018. The first volume is coming from South Buncombe. It’s a factor but I will tell you it’s rarely if ever a factor in a recruitment effort. We’ve got a 3.8 percent unemployment rate, the fifth lowest out of 100 counties, so realistically when any project lands here, to think that all those jobs are going to be filled by Henderson County residents is just not realistic at all. We know that more and more of our workforce here is commuting from surrounding counties, where it is more affordable. The outcome is I think that Henderson County is becoming more of an employment destination in the region for Western North Carolina.”

The partnership formed a spinoff nonprofit to identify and preserve land for industry. Are we at risk of running out of industrial land?
“Inventory is a challenge for us. We may have two years of inventory left, we may have five or 10. … There’s 76 acres in Ferncliff, there’s 90 acres across the street in Broad Pointe, there’s 319 acres in Taproot (dairy farm, which is on the market), there’s new property coming on line in the Dana, Upward area now. Our organization has gone through a really extensive planning effort to look at the next 10 to 20 years’ worth of inventory and determine where it is. So I think we got a head start on it.”

How do you assess the future of Henderson County?
“I see no reason why Henderson County economic development success won’t continue. I think it’s going to change. I think it’s going to be a little different than what we’re used to. I think it’s going to be a little harder than what it used to be. … GF Linamar, people think, oh, this is an aluminum die-casting factory. They overlook the fact that it’s that company’s headquarters — engineers, finance, sales and marketing, HR — the whole team is there. We do well there because people truly want to live here.”

What’s the new job?
“I’m going to go work for the North Carolina Railroad as vice president of real estate. North Carolina Railroad Co. is a private company that its only shareholder is the state of North Carolina. It goes back 168 years. It’s the first private corporation in North Carolina. They own a 300-plus mile corridor from Charlotte to the port terminal in Morehead City and real estate assets in different places across the state. My responsibility there would be to manage those assets, sometimes dispose of real estate or at times acquire real estate and a lot of that real estate work would be performed in a way to support the state’s economic development goals.”

Why did you take a new job?
“I’ve been here for 10 years. Sometimes I question whether I had the best ideas for what the organization needed going forward. Also I knew that if I was going to leave I needed to leave while our kids were small.”

Is part of it that you’ve done all you can do here?
“I never thought in those terms. I’ve been asked that several times. When I came here almost 11 years ago, I was by no means a competitive candidate for that position. They gave me a courtesy interview because they hadn’t seen me in three years. It was years later that I found out I was not seen as a candidate. The important thing is, when I asked, ‘What does this look like if it’s successful?’ and when I think through everything I heard from that group of roughly eight people in 2006, almost everything’s marked off that list. We need a new set of goals, we need a new vision and I can envision that it would be better for the organization to have someone draft and consider those things with fresh eyes.”

Any last words?
“One of the things that makes this community and the partnership successful — I told you how we’re always asking someone for a favor — ‘Can you help me out with this?’ It’s shocking how many times people say yes. There is an interesting era of cooperation here that is primarily what sets us apart from other communities.”