Signs of rebounding economy found in Caldwell County permits

Jun. 21, 2014 @ 09:09 PM

Construction is swinging back into gear in Caldwell County, which could mean the economy is following suit.

Through May 31, 764 building permits had been issued for new construction valued at more than $40 million, and the number of permits issued so far in June is up compared to last year, said Sherri Marshall of the county permitting office.

In all of 2013, 1,993 building permits were issued for new construction valued at just under $60.2 million, and in 2012 there were 2,084 permits for construction worth a little more than $48.5 million.

At the county's low point, in 2009, 1,856 permits were issued at a value of just under $39 million.

Almost $11 million of this year's amount so far is for single-family housing, much of it in subdivisions that have jolted back to life, including Timber Rock in Richland and The Coves in Collettsville.

That’s part of why the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners included $70,000 in the county's fiscal 2014-15 budget to hire a new county planner, Commissioner Chris Barlowe said.

“(The county’s) starting to see some subdivision activity once again in several of our subdivisions,” Barlowe said. “I think it’s crucial that we have a planner that is approving them before they go in.”

Currently, the county only has one employee in the planning department. With construction picking back up, the county needs someone who can travel out to the work sites and coordinate inspections to make sure that bridges, street inclines and other specifics in these subdivisions are up to code, Barlowe said.

“Interest rates are still very low, and I think a lot of it is going to be tied directly to especially these subdivisions, second homes, retirees looking to relocate,” Barlowe said, but also that new jobs are driving them as well, like an apartment complex being built at the golf course in Lenoir.

“Things are starting to pick up, and we just want to stay ahead of the game,” he said. “The planning department is crucial to the board.”

Nearly $14 million of the new construction value in the 2014 permits is for the new William Lenoir Middle School, but the county's permits do not include Merchant Distributors Inc.'s $20 million expansion near Granite Falls because that land is in Hickory's city limits.

The rise in permit value is a harbinger of a rebounding economy because they show rising investments that will raise the tax base of the county, said Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.

"Let's take MDI, for example," she said. "They announced a $20 million expansion, and there will be a lot of workers who will perform that expansion, the contractors and subcontractors and the dollars and cents for materials."

Murray said the EDC works with companies that are considering expansions and modernizations, but "you won't see that permit be purchased until it's a very real project with a start and finish date."