Veteran Charlotte developers and brothers Andy Pressley and Rob Pressley are expanding into Gaston County, opening both a commercial and residential firm, betting that the county is ripe for future growth.
The commercial real estate office, Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA, is the first in the county to be affiliated with a national company and will offer a range of services, including property management. It’s a move that could give the area greater exposure and attract new employers to a region plagued with stubbornly high unemployment, say people involved in economic development.
The Pressleys’ family-owned development and brokerage firm, MECA Properties, spearheaded the revitalization of Charlotte’s once industrial South End into a bustling neighborhood.
Rob Pressley, who runs the commercial side of the company, said they envision similar redevelopment happening among the smaller towns in textile mill-filled Gaston County.
“We said Gaston County is like South End. We can get our arms around it and become involved and hopefully bring great things to the community and be invigorated by it,” he said.
The expansion also marks the first time the more than 50-year-old company has opened an office outside of Mecklenburg County.
Gaston County’s head economic developer, Donny Hicks, said that while local brokers have worked hard to promote the county, there is an advantage to having a national firm set up shop locally. National firms have done local deals, but from offices based in Charlotte.
“I think there’s an implied message that the market is important or big enough to put an office there. It will help bring a lot of focus and will expand opportunities,” said Hicks, executive director of the Gaston County Economic Development Commission. “It will bring people and it will bring credibility.”
Rob Pressley moved to Belmont from Charlotte six years ago so he and his wife could raise their three young daughters in a smaller community close to Charlotte.
Pressley was struck by the amount of available land and friendly people in the various towns and thought the area had untapped potential.
He reached out to fellow commercial real estate developers and brokers Bob and Eric Clay, a father-and-son team working out of McAdenville. Bob Clay, former director of real estate for Pharr Yarns, worked for MECA in the 1980s.
The men decided to join together and open a full-service firm.
Eric Clay said the new firm will be able to offer services they couldn’t before, such as property management, which can require extensive resources, computer software and training.
Eric Clay and Rob Pressley say they’ve already been talking to businesses and property owners about new development but declined to provide specifics, saying plans were still being formed.
“But we’re really excited,” Clay said. “We plan to grow the market and think it will bring more opportunity for everyone.”
In addition to focusing on commercial real estate, the Pressleys are moving into Gaston County’s home-buying market, which they see as a compliment to commercial development.
As their father, Tony, revitalized and rebranded South End, transforming former mills and industrial buildings into retail and restaurants in the 1990s, residential growth made the area’s change sustainable.
Gaston County’s residential market has some existing heavy players. Residential giant Allen Tate, for example, already has an office in the county. MECA Real Estate Services is acquiring Coldwell Banker Black and Whisnant to form Coldwell Banker MECA Realty, which will be run by Andy Pressley and have roughly 30 agents and employees.
Local real estate agent Dean Carpenter has been selling and developing commercial and residential real estate in the county for more than 30 years.
He said he welcomes the new competition.
“We operate a free market enterprise,” he said. “Anybody that will come in and open a commercial office would hopefully generate some economic development and bring some jobs. And I’m certainly in favor of that.”
County seeks investments
Hicks said the Pressleys’ move comes at a good time as the county looks to rebuild along with the rest of the nation.
Gaston County, once a bustling textile capital, has suffered the loss of textile and other manufacturing jobs, which pushed the jobless rate above 11 percent last year. In December, the rate was 10.5 percent. On Thursday, Daimler Trucks North America said it was laying off 405 workers at its Mt. Holly plant.
But European manufacturers have been investing in the area during the past 18 months, Hicks said. Among the recent investment: German plastics manufacturer Lanxess opened a $15 million plant in September, and in November Otto Nussbaum GmbH & Co. bought land for a $7.6 million plant that would produce automotive lifts starting this year.
Industrial development tends to cluster in the western side of Gaston County, while office and retail projects gravitate toward the eastern side. Currently, much of the office market is dominated by medical tenants.
Hicks said he sees opportunity for new retail and office development in the near future.
“It’s a good time (for Pressley) to open an office,” he said. “They will get in early, lay the groundwork and have an influence on what happens.”