By JIMMY RANDOLPH

“In Sanford and Lee County, we make things.”

Yes, our community has a long and proud manufacturing tradition, and with dozens of manufacturing businesses operating and thriving in Lee County today, that statement is as true as it has ever been. In fact, Lee County has three times more people employed in manufacturing jobs than the national average, and twice the state average.

There are many reasons that manufacturing is still a mainstay of our local economy, but arguably the number one reason is the rich pool of talented, innovative and hard-working people who do the work each day.

Another significant factor in the continued success of Sanford and Lee County’s manufacturers is the investment in critical infrastructure by the community. In addition to utilities like water, sewer, energy and telecommunications infrastructure, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance works with local elected leaders to expand and diversify the economic base of Lee County by simultaneously supporting existing businesses and encouraging new business recruitment. Because of its unique structure as a public-private partnership, SAGA is uniquely positioned to leverage private investment in support of community economic development goals, creating many new jobs and expanding the tax base in the process.

Recognizing that existing businesses account for 75% (or more) of all new investment and job creation in a community, a primary goal of the SAGA Program of Work is to retain and expand existing businesses. In pursuit of this goal, SAGA proactively launched a formal Business Retention and Expansion Program in 2018 and created a dedicated staff position to lead the initiative.

The most immediate benefit of SAGA’s BRE program is finding and fixing problems for existing businesses. Not only is this critical for existing industry retention, it creates a more favorable business climate for recruitment purposes. Satisfied and successful existing business make the best recruitment ambassadors.

To this end, my position at SAGA includes maintaining relationships with the leaders of existing businesses and working closely with colleagues at the chamber and in local government to identify specific business needs. Through a strong relationship with other community stakeholders, SAGA enlists their assistance as needed in responding to identified business needs. This collaborative community model significantly enhances and expands the capabilities of SAGA’s BRE program.

This proactive approach in support of business retention and expansion has contributed to several significant expansions in recent months:

• After a lengthy search for the right building, Caterpillar acquired and converted a former textile manufacturing plant into a state-of-the-art fabrication facility for its skid steer loaders, dramatically improving its manufacturing processes and increasing its production capacity here in Sanford. The capital investment in this project expanded the tax base and helped with the creation of more than 100 new jobs for Sanford and Lee County’s largest current employer.

• In the life sciences sector, long-time Lee County vaccine manufacturer Pfizer announced an additional $500 million investment at its local campus to establish a global center of excellence in gene therapy manufacturing. Hiring is well underway for this initiative, with a total of 300 new jobs expected with average wages more than double the county average.

In addition to these major recent announcements, SAGA continues to assist smaller businesses and industries with building renovations, adding new product lines and identifying and attracting supply chain partners to the region. We are also accumulating current, reliable business data that can improve decision-making in both the public and private sector, and create a more favorable climate for business success.

At SAGA, we are proud to work alongside the people of our existing industry community to help them be as successful as they can be.

If you are facing challenges or responding to new business opportunities, we encourage you to reach out and explore how chamber membership and engagement with SAGA can help your business succeed.

Jimmy Randolph is the Existing Industry manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.

Jimmy Randolph is the Existing Industry manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance.