By Clellie Allen
LOUISBURG — When Franklin County Manager Angela Harris prepared to give the annual State of the County address at Vance Granville Community College in Louisburg Thursday, she decided to take a different approach.
Rather than just throw out numbers and assorted facts, she first led attendees on a visualization of sorts. She asked listeners to imagine themselves driving down the road, with the view from the rearview mirror a look back over the last few years.
“As you glance in the rear view mirror, you immediately reflect back over recent years — years of a very challenging economic time in our history,” Harris said. “Eyes back on the road ahead and you realize with cautious optimism how we are transitioning to an improved economy — an economy that continues to undergo transformation in a number of areas.”
Harris pointed to a number of reasons for that optimism, key of which is population growth by more than 13,000 in the last census, most of which is in the southern portion. Youngsville alone added 500 residents, a 78 percent increase.
Harris noted that single family dwelling permits are trending up. The highest point prior to the most recent economic recession was 2006-07, when $1.02 million in permit fees were collected. The lowest point was in 2010-11, when a third of that came in $385,940. The figures for 2013-14 fiscal year were not in yet as the period just ended June 30, but Harris said she was confident they were greater than the years prior.
Home closed listings are up, according to Triangle MLS, Harris said. The January-June period of this year had 367 closed listings with an average sale price of $166,473 as compared with the same period last year of 326 closed listings at an average sale price of $162,837.
Harris also pointed to improved employment data over the last two years. The unemployment rate in May was 6.4 percent, which is on par with the state’s overall unemployment rate. But that doesn’t show the real picture, Harris said.
“I recognize, as you do, our citizens are not statistics,” Harris said. “I believe the more important point to illustrate is the fact we have more people working today than we did two years ago when I last addressed this group. More than 29,000 residents were earning average weekly wages of $682 in May.
“Citizens are employed in diverse occupations including, but not limited to, health care, education, government, trade, transportation and utilities, technology and advanced manufacturing.
One industry that has undergone “significant transformation” is manufacturing, Harris said, with the new buzz words “advanced manufacturing” floating around.
Examples of advanced manufacturing in Franklin County were in companies such as Novozymes, Palziv, K-FLex and Trulight.
Novozymes has their North American headquarters in Franklinton and recently announced a major expansion, and K-Flex has their U.S. headquarters in Youngsville. Both are international companies.
More traditional manufacturing companies are those like Triangle Metalworks and Carolina Machine & Fabrication.
Green industry has also come to Franklin County, Harris said, particularly with things like solar farms.
The Bunn Solar Farm, adjacent to the Bunn Correctional Facility, was the first to be installed in 2012 and generates 4.5 megawatts of electricity, completely off the grid, she said, off-setting the energy consumption of more than 600 homes.
Additionally, the food and beverage industry is expanding in the county. The award-winning White Street Brewery, which has a small brewery and tap room in Wake Forest, will open a larger production facility in Youngsville with plans to employ 20 people its first year, and then add 15 more over a four-year period, she said.
Harris also spoke about entre-preneurial spirit with the recent opening of Boondocks in Youngsville.
“We have the opportunity and poten-tial to involve and leverage the talent of all our citizens. … The Boondocks building represents how business partners joined forces, with a common vision and a plan to be a part of the revitalization of downtown Youngsville.”
Lastly, Harris pointed to the Franklin County school system partnering with community industry to provide oppor-tunities for students before they graduate.
“A key to having a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employers in Franklin County is having an educated, trained and skilled workforce,” she said.
“We are blessed to live, work and play in a county that exemplifies through its actions how much it cares.”