HENDERSON — Local officials have begun trying to figure out whether and how they might add a ready-to-use “shell building” to the third phase of the Henderson-Vance Industrial Park to make it more enticing to companies looking to expand or relocate.

Economic Development Commission Christian Lockamy gave a presentation on the idea to the Vance County Commissioners this week, and is scheduled to follow suit for the Henderson City Council next week.

In talking to the commissioners, he stressed that Henderson and Vance County are competing for economic development with communities in North Carolina and Virginia that have already taken the risk of putting up empty buildings that a recruited company can fill.

It’s “a very common play” because “the reality is a lot of companies are not in the business of building their own buildings,” Lockamy said later. “When they’re relocating or expanding, typically [customer] demand [for their products] has crept up on them and they’re doing it really fast.”

County Manager Jordan McMillen noted that the county most recent successful recruitments — of Mako Medical and Select Product Holdings — both involved the companies moving into buildings that were “readily available” for occupancy and upfit.

“That’s not to say we don’t have other buildings that are vacant, it’s just that you need the right building that meets the needs of the company in a quick timeframe,” McMillen said. “A shell building would allow us to do that.”

The third phase of the industrial park is just off U.S. 1 and Bear Pond Road south of Henderson. With money from grants and other sources, local officials have paid to have basic infrastructure like water and sewer installed on the property.

But in the current environment, having such “shovel-ready” land available isn’t necessarily enough, not when North Carolina communities like Wilson and Virginia ones like those in the Interstate 81 corridor near Roanoke have actual buildings to offer, Lockamy said.

Over near Winston-Salem and Greensboro, Davie County has built 12 shell buildings working with a private partner.

There are risks, financially, to such endeavors as it’s possible to get stuck with a costly white elephant if recruiting prospects never turn into actual signings. But Lockamy’s presentation underscored that there are strategies available to mitigate the risk.

As the Davie County example shows, one is to join forces with a private company that would build and finance the shell while having local governments offset some of its costs, for instance by paying the interest on the construction loan for a while.

On the other hand, there are loans available that would allow local governments to get construction money without having to pay interest for a while — in essence, allowing them to bet that they’d be able to find a company to move in before the interest payments would come due.

For now, though, the plan is to spend the summer and fall evaluating the idea and its local possibilities. The industrial park’s board will take the lead on that, with the Economic Development Commission getting the first crack at reviewing the board’s recommendations. A presentation to the County Commissioners would follow.

McMillen said the county may have some money it can put into the project, but because it would piggyback on a loan his government is planning to take out to pay for some school repairs the window for using it only pops up at certain times of the year, namely the early fall and late winter.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.