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GREENSBORO'S ECONOMY: SLOW AND STEADY GROWTH

GREENSBORO'S ECONOMY: SLOW AND STEADY GROWTH

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Greensboro's business recruiters didn't hit any home runs in 1989, but the city continued on its steady growth course.

New and existing companies invested about $120 million in new or expanded facilities, according to the Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce.That was ``right on target' of the chamber's goal at the beginning of 1989, said Marc R. Bush, senior economic developer for the chamber. ``We feel like it was an excellent year,' he said.

Guilford County's unemployment rate held steady at between 3 to 3.5 percent, according to the N.C. Employment Security Commission. By the end of the 3rd quarter, 2,822 new jobs had been created, approximating the 2,875 new jobs created in all of 1988.

Regional economic development cooperation received a boost last year from Triad Chambers, a group of area chamber officials, convention and visitors bureau executives and economic development professionals promoting increased cooperation among Triad communities.

The group, headed by John Turner, a partner in Forsyth Partners, a commercial developer, initiated work committees to obtain extended area telephone service, better commercial air service and better coordinated economic development efforts, among other efforts.

The group will be led this year by Greensboro automobile dealer William H. Black III, past president of the Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Greensboro Economic Development Council, an umbrella development group created in October 1988 to coordinate area economic development activities.

``I think we had some wins and losses last year in terms of our working together as a Triad,' Black said. ``I feel like there are some people who are really sincerely committed to making this happen and making Triad cooperation a reality.

``I've got to say the mayoral campaign in Winston-Salem could not have helped us,' he said, referring to the divisive election in which Martha Wood defeated Dee Smith. ``We're not further from Triadism becoming a reality, but we're not as close as I'd like to be.'

Some economic development accomplishments in 1989 cited by Black:

New companies such as Bonset America and O'Neal Steel located in Guilford County. Existing companies like Sears, Roebuck and Co., Burlington Industries, AT&T, Koger Companies and Volvo GM Heavy Truck Corp. either expanded their operations or made further commitments to invest in the area.

Among new employers, American Express Information Services (formerly known as First Data Resources) located an office at the Air Park East development near Piedmont Triad International Airport. A contractor for communications services for MCI Communications, the office employs more than 700 people.

O'Neal Steel is a steel processing and service center that will employ 40 at its facility in Triad Industrial Park. Bonset America Corp., a Japanese heat-shrinkable plastic film manufacturer, selected Lake Herman Corporate Center for its new plant and will employ 80 people.

Existing companies expanded operations in 1989, including American Express, which announced a 350-person addition to its credit card processing center near the airport, bringing its total employment to about 2,500. Also, Ciba-Geigy Corp. added about 200 employees when it opened an environmental technology center and relocated the Funk Seed Co. headquarters from Illinois.

Sears announced the relocation of its credit center to AirPark East plus an expansion of its employment by 350 for a total of 650 within several years. Sears' telecatalog center, also near the airport, increased employment from a projected 1,000 in 1988 to more than 1,700. Sears also announced a new warranty service center on Boeing Drive near the airport that will employ 200. AT&T also indicated it will locate a manufacturing facility in western Guilford County that will employ 250, bringing AT&T's total employment in the county to nearly 4,000.

Three new downtown office towers either opened for business or neared completion, giving the central business district its biggest boost in several decades.

Some minuses for Greensboro in 1989:

In July, Gilbarco, the Greensboro-based firm that makes about 35 percent of the nation's service station gas pumps, dismissed 150 workers, blaming a downturn in manufacturing and increased regulatory requirements that diverted capital away from the purchase of pumps.

In December, about 100 workers at the Greensboro terminal of Brown Transport Corp., once the nation's 10th largest trucking company, lost their jobs when Brown closed most of its operations after filing Oct. 31 for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The biggest fish that got away in 1989 was Sears, Roebuck and Co.'s merchandising group. Sears briefly considered the Triad for the group's new headquarters, a plum that would have meant 6,700 jobs. The Sears site selection team visited Greensboro and nearly selected Charlotte or Raleigh before finally selecting a Chicago suburb.

Thomas Z. Osborne, president of the Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said additions of Konica Manufacturing USA, a Japanese-owned manufacturer of color photographic paper, Bonset America and Focke, a German-owned manufacturer of packaging machinery, gives the area more diversification in the manufacturing sector.

``I don't believe that those are one-time, one-shot operations. I think you'll see others that will come in like that,' Osborne said, adding that Japanese-owned companies in particular have found a trainable local labor force that performs to Japanese standards.

Osborne also believes the labor force will support more growth of telemarketing service centers. ``As a matter of fact, some are looking now, and they have no problem, as far as I can see, in finding labor,' he said.

He also believes the area will continue to attract more distribution facilities. The latest company to announce was K mart, which will build a regional distribution facility in eastern Greensboro that is expected to employ more than 300 people.

Looking over a longer range, tobacco, textiles and apparel will account for 15 percent of the Triad's total employment through the year 2000, according to a forecast by Data Resources Inc., a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill. Non-manufacturing employment in Greensboro will grow by about 1.6 percent annually during the 1990s, while manufacturing jobs will declined by about .25 percent per year, according to the forecast.

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