A YouTube video of the former Johnston County Industries building in Smithfield shows views most residents have never seen.
Accompanied by fine elevator music, the video has a variety of high, sweeping shots that are lower and closer than you’d get from a helicopter. Cheaper too.
The video is from a camera attached to a small commercial drone, a tool Johnston County Economic Development is using to market vacant buildings to companies and developers.
The economic-development office, a department of county government, has a YouTube page with seven videos shot with drones. The office’s director, Chris Johnson, said he hopes to film most of the two dozen or so buildings he considers “ready” sites, or those that have access to utilities, are for sale for a set price and are properly zoned.
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Johnson, who operates the department’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, said the videos are another social media tool that promotes what the county has to offer. The drones, he said, provide a different, less costly perspective than a rented helicopter would.
In addition to shots of the buildings, the roughly one-minute videos include details on each site, such as acreage, square footage and location.
Johnson said one prospect visited the Carolina Distribution Center in Clayton after he posted a video of the property on YouTube and advertised it through Twitter.
“You never know who is following you that may see something online and say, ‘Hey, we need to make sure we contact them,’ ” Johnson said.
A few months ago, Johnson said, he considered buying a drone with an attached camera. But as he was doing his research, he ran into Ken Best, a Clayton videographer who was producing a different video for Johnston County.
Best told Johnson he was getting ready to buy a drone, prompting Johnson to ask himself, “Do I invest $2,000 into a piece of equipment, learn on the fly and crash the thing, or use Ken?”
He decided to use Best, who started filming the different buildings last fall.
Best, who owns Best Video Productions Inc., said the last time he rented a helicopter to film something for a client, the bill was pricey.
“The drones allow me to get some excellent footage for a whole lot cheaper,” Best said. “I can get down and do some real, low-level videography with it, where if you have a helicopter, you don’t want to get ground level and going up.”
Since he started filming the buildings, Best said, he’s gotten requests for business. But he will turn down an assignment, he said, if it’s in a crowded place or will pose a safety problem.
“There are common-sense rules,” Best said.
Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration unveiled a set of proposed rules for small commercial drones. Among other things, the rules would require operators to pass a test, fly only during the day at altitudes below 500 feet and maintain a visual line of sight of the aircraft.
Best said he wouldn’t have a problem with any of the proposed restrictions, adding that he doesn’t fly above 400 feet. He said he usually takes a spotter with him when he films.
“When you are looking at the monitor, you can see what the camera is seeing, but you can’t see what’s around the drone,” Best said. “It’s kind of nice to have a person next to me to say, ‘Hey, there’s a tree coming up,’ or better yet, ‘Hey, there’s a power line.’ ”
The economic development office paid about $2,000 for the seven videos currently posted to its YouTube page. Johnson said it would have cost more to rent a helicopter, factoring in costs for the aircraft, a pilot and a camera.
“It’s all about trying to stay cutting edge and make our stuff stand out a little bit more than who we traditionally compete with,” Johnson said. “We want to be a leader in economic development.”