Real Estate Agent with CENTURY 21 American Homes

As Hickory, NC strives to deal with low employment and a high vacancy rate of commercial properties, the city and the Economic Development Corporation have been creating incentives to lure business to the city.  In 2007 the Hickory Fire Department asked the city if there was a way to reduce the number of vacant commercial buildings it monitors.  The city in turn came up with an initiative dubbed "Operation No Vacancy".

The Redevelopment Committee was formed which included representatives from the city manager's office and the planning, fire, community, economic development, public services, and Catawba County building services departments. The committee's major work focused on five areas:

* enhancing the vacant building inventory that was developed in 2007

* designating a commercial revitalization area

* creating a vacant building revitalization grant program

* unifying existing redevelopment programs

* reaching out to stakeholders

Several programs were developed as Part of the initiative. 

* a 50% fund-match up to $25,000 for exterior improvements of vacant buildings within the Commercial Revitalization Area (CRA)

* a 50% fund-match up to $5,000, for apperance improvements in the CRA

* a 50% fund-match up to $2,500 for landscaping

* 100% grant for net gain property tax revenue for 5 years for properties in the CRA that add new jobs and invest more than $500,000

As with any government programs, there are procedures that must be followed.  For the $25,000 grant, a simple application is submitted with cost estimates of the work to be done.  The Redevelopment Committee inspects the property and discusses the work to be done.  At the same time represetatives from the fire department, public services, and Catawba County building services inspect the building for fire and safety code compliance.  The tax-payer is providing the funds and so it makes sense that their interests are protected.  After all, it would be foolish to provide money for a project only to have the building burn down because it didn;t meet the current fire codes.  These inspections would be required anyway and the committee can advise the owner if any necessary code repairs can be covered by city grants.  The committee then meets, with the owner present if desired, and approves the eligible repairs and improvements. 

The grant is a reimbursement program.  Fifty-percent of the grant is distributed when the improvements are completed and the rest when the building is occupied.

 The program has been successful.  So successful in fact that it has received the The City of Hickory received a national award for its Operation No Vacancy program during the Alliance for Innovation conference on Transforming Local Government in Corpus Christi, Texas in May, 2009.

 The Alliance for Innovation is an international organization that highlights innovative programs and best practices from every aspect of local government. Alliance for Innovation emphasizes the importance of working across department and agency lines to develop new processes that improve the performance and efficiency of local government.  Operation No Vacancy received an "Outstanding Achievement in Local Government Innovation" award.

Hickory also has the Brownfield Program.  This is a grant program designed to help with Phase 1, 2, and 3 environmental programs.

As Hickory has worked hard to attract business to the area, it has become one of the least expensive cities in the country to do business. For more information on doing business in Hickory, NC and incentives to relocating your business here, visit


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