Cabarrus Conversations: Anna Lu Wilson, Town of Harrisburg
We recently sat down with Anna Lu Wilson, former Vice President of Business Services for Cabarrus Economic Development, who now serves as Economic Development Director for the Town of Harrisburg. She discussed the primary areas of the town’s growing economic landscape and other projects on the horizon.
Q: Harrisburg recently made its debut on MONEY’s top 50 list of Best Places to Live 2015. What do you think are the town’s top three competitive advantages in terms of recruiting industry, business and newcomers?
A: We were so proud to receive that recognition. Our town has many selling points, but if I had to narrow it down to just three they would be it’s in a prime location with easy access to the interstate, there’s plenty of available land for development and we offer a wonderful quality of life.
Q: Harrisburg doesn’t have a lot of industrial space or office buildings, but there is available land. What are you doing to capitalize on that valuable asset?
A: We’re trying to stay ahead of where we see potential growth. While the majority of our growth has been along Highway 49, there are still pockets that are ripe for development. We just got Town Council approval for a small area plan of 500 acres in West Morehead between Highways 49 and 29. We see this area as the next frontier for mixed-used development in Harrisburg because there’s so much land and it’s very close to the interstate.
Q: The town has worked hard to develop a structured incentives program to help recruit new business. How did that factor into the Pepsi Bottling Ventures facility expansion in Harrisburg?
A: We’re so excited about that project, which should be complete in February. When our town was smaller we just followed what the county did, but now that we’re growing it’s important that we define our own incentive policies. Developers know exactly what we can offer them and how their project can fit into our community. With the Pepsi facility, the county offered tax grant incentives and the town offered a traffic signal, so it was a great collaboration and we look forward to our partnership with Pepsi.
Q: Can you share any updates on what the town is doing to maximize its existing assets and infrastructure?
A: We’re currently offering a matching grant program for facade site improvements for businesses along the Highway 49 corridor, between Morehead and Roberta Roads. We modeled our program after the Kannapolis program. This is an older section of town and the grant is a great way for business owners to spruce up their building facades – whether it’s pressure washing their building or planting flowers.
Q: How do you market Harrisburg’s Town Center mixed-use area since it’s not a typical downtown area like in Concord or Kannapolis?
A: Harrisburg was only established in 1973, so it’s fairly young. We’re not old enough to benefit from historical tax credits so we have to be proactive with attracting businesses to Town Center. The infrastructure is there and there are only three spaces available, but there’s still a lot of land. We hope the developer starts building again soon; it’s a desirable location for retailers who aren’t part of the big box model, but want a location with a more unique and metro feel. Also, the location is ideal – halfway
between Concord and the University City area of Charlotte.
Q: Tell us about the new “What’s Under Construction in Harrisburg?” section of the town’s website.
A: This was in response to our residents’ requests to be kept in the loop on town projects and development, especially the Piedmont Improvement Plan. The website allows visitors to view a map and easily access timely information about commercial and residential development, as well as see what new retail is coming to the area. It’s a great tool for our community and we’re already hearing some really positive feedback about it.