The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday January 31st

Is Orange County open for business?

In Orange County, stereotypes often clash.

There are many high-income residents, but also high poverty rates. Quality of life is high, yet so is the cost of living.

But being unfriendly to business is one stereotype county officials are actively working to combat in hopes of attracting larger, more diverse companies to the area.

“There are pros and cons to Orange County’s image,” said Steve Brantley, economic development director for the county. “We have a high quality of life and high-income residents, but taxes are high and there’s a lot of regulation.”

Brantley said there are many factors that affect where a business chooses to locate — including tax rates, existing infrastructure and regulations.

Orange County often loses out to nearby Wake and Durham counties when recruiting businesses.

At 85.8 cents per $100 of property value, Orange County has the highest property tax rate in the area. Durham County’s rate is 74.4 cents, and Wake County comes in at 53.4 cents.

And real estate in Orange County is limited, especially in downtown Chapel Hill.

Dwight Bassett, economic development officer for Chapel Hill, said the town does not spend a lot of time recruiting businesses because of the shortage of space.

“Our retail and office space markets don’t have the capacity to accommodate a lot of growth right now,” he said. “Until we have a greater supply, we just help people who express interest in locating here.”

Wake County has the advantage of being home to part of the Research Triangle Park — a world-famous center that draws many biotech and pharmaceutical companies to the county.

“Often, businesses are already sold on moving to Raleigh,” said Wake County Economic Development Project Manager Michael Haley. “We have a brand that people understand.”

And both Wake and Durham Counties regularly offer economic incentives to companies moving to the area — which Orange County has only recently begun doing.

He said Orange County’s only incentive thus far was a $100,000 grant to manufacturer AKG of America Inc. in Mebane.

Business incentives are comparable to university scholarships, said Brent Lane, director of the Carolina Center for Competitive Economies.

“They’re effective, but sometimes you don’t know if they’re necessary — a business could be planning on moving here and not even need the incentive,” he said.

And County Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said Orange County has other strengths that draw business to the area, like great schools and educated workforce.

Brantley said upcoming mixed-use developments, combined with an openness to offering incentives, suggest good things for the county’s business climate.

“Orange County is not only open for business, we are actively engaged in recruiting and promoting new business,” Brantley said.

“We want people to be able to live here and work here, instead of commuting to Raleigh.”

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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