When it comes to questions about business in Cabarrus County, LeeAnn Nixon may not have all the answers, but she certainly knows how and where to get them.
As the Existing Industry Specialist for Cabarrus Economic Development, Nixon heads up the Business Retention and Expansion Program – a key part of the EDC’s strategic plan that focuses on identifying industry needs and supporting business growth.
“Taking care of and strengthening the business we have in Cabarrus County is just as important as recruiting new business,” Nixon said. “This program allows us to find out what’s happening in our business community and identify trends, obstacles and opportunities.”
Over the past year, Nixon has visited nearly 100 businesses, ranging in size from 25 to 1,000-plus employees. “I’ll ask questions about industry trends, business goals, how they’re maximizing space or if they want to expand, where they are in their growth plans, what challenges and barriers they face, what legislation they are concerned with, and if they have any issues with utilities or infrastructure,” she said.
The answers to those questions help Nixon identify areas where she can offer assistance, including accessing local and regional demographics, identifying and inquiring about incentives and grants, locating business contacts and referrals, identifying available buildings and sites and serving as a liaison to county and state officials and departments.
“I open the door to conversations and do what I can to help keep existing businesses focused on what they do best, whether that’s manufacturing a product or offering a service,” she said. “I may not have all the answers, but I can tap into my resource partners at the local, regional, state and sometimes even federal level to get them in touch with the right people who can provide a solution to their problem or get them the information they need.”
For example, a local business owner was concerned about his land being encroached on during the I-85 widening project so he contacted the North Carolina Department of Transportation. When he was unable to connect with the right people who could help him, he called Nixon for assistance.
“I worked with our local government officials to get the business owner connected with the project manager who was involved with the project on site every day,” Nixon said. “The issue has not been completely resolved yet, but conversations have been ongoing and the business owner got the reassurance he needed that he was being heard.”
In another instance, Nixon helped connect local sign companies with Concord and Kannapolis officials when they were in the process of redoing sign ordinances. “It was a good opportunity to make sure the businesses had a chance to communicate their voice to officials about an issue that directly impacted their business,” she said.
Meanwhile, when it comes to larger employers in the county the burning question Nixon often hears is: “Where am I going to get my future workforce and qualified personnel?” Collaborating with the educational institutions that help train and direct the county’s future workforce is another component of the Business Retention and Expansion Program.
“I listen to what the industries are saying and take it back to the educators so they can help plan their future programs,” she said. “I also encourage businesses to get more engaged by offering tours, speaking to students in the classroom and offering internships for students to get exposure to different career options.”
Whether it’s identifying available business incentives or helping navigate permitting and regulatory processes, Nixon wants business owners to think of her as a trusted advisor whose job it is to make it easier for them to keep growing.
She added, “The EDC appreciates the businesses in our community and recognizes they choose to be here. We want to do whatever we can to help them so they can continue investing in Cabarrus County and our people.”