Bill Russell does the math quickly in his head, and the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce president and CEO can't help but sound just the slightest bit giddy when he spits out the equation.
"More than 550 jobs announced in about the last two weeks," he says, describing an exchange he had recently with Davidson Mayor John Woods. "We're fast becoming a very hot market," says Russell.
The "we" to whom he and Woods refer is the Lake Norman region in general, but the flashpoint for that heat right now seems to be the tiny Town of Davidson.
With slightly more than 11,000 residents, Davidson is definitely the smallest player on the area's vast economic development pitch, but it's fast becoming the playmaker when it comes to local job creation.
After the Town of Huntersville gave it the thumbs-down, Carolinas HealthCare System recently unveiled its plans to build a $36 million, 66-bed behavioral health facility on Davidson's eastern edge, bringing about 155 jobs along with it (see story, Page 6).
And now, in an announcement last week, Melville, N.Y.-based MSC Industrial Direct Inc. says it has chosen a 14-acre site in Davidson — nestled up against Lake Davidson in Exit 30's northeastern corner — to build a $31 million office complex. Company officials say the two office towers will serve as a "co-headquarters" for MSC, one of the largest direct marketers and distributors of metalworking and maintenance, repair and operations supplies to industrial customers throughout the U.S., and will bring about 400 new, high-paying jobs with it.
Chamber and town officials can recite the metrics of the new MSC project by heart, the way a team dutifully memorizes the coach's playbook.
But what do the numbers really mean when it comes to actual economic impact?
The Town of Davidson contracted with Development Planning & Financing Group Inc. (DPFG) of Chapel Hill to find out, focusing on just the first phase (initially 200 new, full-time permanent jobs) of what is now known as "Project Husker."
DPFG's economic contribution analysis says the construction phase alone will generate 185 direct, but not permanent, jobs, creating nearly $12 million in labor income during construction, which is expected to begin later this year.
Those jobs will disappear once the office complex is ready for occupancy. However, they will be replaced by 200 new jobs with an estimated average annual wage of $88,000 — well above Mecklenburg County's average of $38,034. All told, DPFG estimates phase one of Project Husker will translate into nearly $22.9 million in permanent direct employment and labor income.
There are indirect economic ripples that will emanate from MSC's arrival in the Lake Norman region as well. That increase in labor income translates to local household spending by MSC employees, which DPFG estimates could create an additional 115 jobs for the local economy and $5.6 million more in labor income. The industries that would share those 115 jobs run the gamut, from restaurants to real estate to retail (see table, this page).
It's an impact of which local business owners are well aware, and many can't wait for it to hit their bottom line.
"With as bad as the economy has been, especially for the hospitality industry, this will definitely be welcome," says Boris Bunich with Beacon Investment Management Group, owners of the Homewood Suites hotel adjacent to the MSC project. Referring to his soon-to-be neighbor, Bunich says, "It's definitely not going to be a bad thing."
Homewood Suites has already been an early benefactor of MSC's decision to locate in Davidson. Bunich says the company's core management team stayed at Homewood when they came to town recently to make Project Husker public.
J.J. Roberson, manager of the CHAR-GRILL restaurant in Davidson Commons just across Griffith Street from the project, says he looks forward to the families MSC will bring to the area, which in turn will drive more traffic through his doors, as well as other local eateries.
"It's a great thing," he says. "That's 400 employees who will need places to eat for lunch."
And if Bonnie Cotter's hunch is correct, some of those 400 employees will also need a place for their child's education.
Cotter is the head of school at Davidson Day School, which sits at the corner of Griffith and Jetton streets, within a short walking distance from the MSC campus site. For parents new to the area and looking for school options, Cotter says Davidson Day's toddler-to-teen enrollment options will be well suited for MSC's employees.
"We're the only independent school around that starts with 2-year-olds and goes all the way through 12th grade," she says, adding that there will be plenty of admissions space as her school expands to a second campus in Mooresville sometime in the next few years.
Clearly, local establishments have something to gain once MSC is added to the local economic mix. But will those same gains translate to the public sector as well?
DPFG estimates that Project Husker's first phase will generate 308 new residents for the Town of Davidson — residents who will require town services such as police and fire protection and who will add traffic to the small town's streets.
Davidson Town Manager Leamon Brice says based on DPFG's fiscal impact analysis, he sees no costs that the town will have to bear based on the new residents MSC is expected to bring. Brice says 308 new Davidsonians will not require an increase for the police or fire departments, nor will they impact traffic near Exit 30, as the roundabouts and traffic patterns near the project were designed as if Griffith Street was already built out to two lanes in each direction.
On the contrary, what the impact analysis does show is an annual fiscal benefit to the town of $294,000 from phase one alone. That's a mix of the property tax MSC will pay at the end of the five-year business investment grant approved by the town, as well as about $184,000 a year generated by Project Husker's new employees and residents through property, sales, utility franchise and other local taxes.
Russell, the Chamber exec and head cheerleader for local business, is still working the numbers in his head, and likes what he sees down the road for what appears to be a rebounding Lake Norman economy.
It's not just the arrival of MSC or CHS's planned mental health facility that has him in fine fiscal spirits. He says not to forget the 135 jobs soon to come fully into play at electrical transmission cable giant ABB in Huntersville, as well as the completion of the Westmoreland Athletic Center in Cornelius and the sports venue magnet it will become.
And he says it's no accident that these companies have chosen the Lake Norman region as their new home. He cites the proximity to an international airport and major interstates as well as the skilled workforce already in place and the wide range of education options available as just a few of the powerful draws for businesses looking to set up shop or relocate here.
Like a proud parent admiring his child's achievements, Russell is never shy about bragging on Lake Norman's attributes.
"Those are the things that make this the perfect place to put your business," he says. "Things are really coming together."