We like to tell Garner’s story almost as much as Tony Beasley, Garner Economic Development Director. It is a story of a vacant building that is being leveraged into a transformational economic development opportunity. If you want to learn more after reading our post, contact Tony in Garner, NC. He is willing to share lessons learned.
For decades, ConAgra Foods had a significant food processing operation in the Town of Garner. The company made meat products such as the well-known Slim Jim product. After an explosion at the facility in 2009, ConAgra’s business plan changed, and the facility was closed. Garner was left with a 425,000 square-foot industrial building specialized for meat processing. Many communities are saddled with outdated, specialized industrial facilities. Where this story takes a turn is when ConAgra donated the facility and surrounding acreage to the Garner Economic Development Corporation (GEDC) and claimed responsibility for current and future environmental issues.
Where the story takes another turn is in the vision of Garner’s leadership. Rather than recruiting another food processor who would not even maintain the status quo in wages and employment, they saw an opportunity for transformational change. They saw an opportunity to create higher paying jobs. They saw an opportunity to recruit a company that could produce spin-off benefit and generate more jobs. Garner’s vision is to ensure that whatever locates on the site will exceed what ConAgra meant to the economy.
Garner took an in depth look at the redevelopment potential of the site. The Town, Garner Economic Development Corporation, and citizens were engaged in the process. The study included a limited due diligence review which lead to the site being entered into the North Carolina Brownfields Program; SWOT analysis; identification of life sciences as the target for recruitment; competitive positioning; and adaptive reuse and design alternatives. The redevelopment plan called for demolition of the building and other steps to better position the site and surrounding area for development.
Today, the building is being demolished and Garner has the leading life sciences site in Wake County and the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina. GEDC is promoting the site to companies who will pay higher wages and offer employment opportunities in a growing technology sector. When Tony Beasley markets the site, he has a great story to tell prospects. It is a story of how Garner transformed tragedy into opportunity.
For more, read the Redevelopment Project Summary: Garner Summary
Author: Crystal Morphis, Creative Economic Development Consulting