Opinion: Daily Journal

Backroads, byways, boondoggles, and brouhahas

CJ graphic by Greg DeDeugd
CJ graphic by Greg DeDeugd

Backroads, byways, boondoggles, and brouhahas is an occasional column — taken from news sources throughout North Carolina — highlighting how government spends our money and makes other questionable moves about which state residents may not be aware.

Robeson County is where North Carolina ends. Interstate 95 cuts straight through this southeastern county, which has seen its share of natural disasters and financial struggles. The county, to its credit, is trying hard to catch its collective breath, to move forward. But on some points, maybe it should find a comfy bench and think about things for awhile.

The county’s board of commissioners recently approved an incentives deal for a company looking to expand, The Robesonian reports.

County Economic Development Director Greg Cummings, writes the paper, asked commissioners to approve a three-year, 50 percent property tax break for the company, which he failed to immediately name.

It’s kind of like asking taxpayers to pay $200 for a pair shoes now but hiding them inside a shiny cardboard box. Telling residents, “You’ll see them when we give them to you.”

The shoes could be something really nice, or they just might be a pair of cheap rubber flip-flops.

The company plans to invest $1 million in the expansion, creating 45 jobs, the story says.

The commissioners also approved two economic incentive deals for Campbell Soup — grants of nearly $200,000 to expand operations in Maxton, contingent on the company meeting specific goals.

“Both deals,” The Robesonian says, “call for Campbell Soup to keep the expansion projects in the county for three years, retain full-time employment for 12 months after the expansion is complete, pay its taxes, not practice hiring discrimination and abide by all environmental regulations.”

Basically follow the law, then?

Looking good?

Neopac US, Inc., a global manufacturer of primary packaging for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, chose Wilson County for its first U.S. manufacturing plant and new North American headquarters, Gov Roy Cooper announced in a news release.

The company plans to create up to 44 new jobs and invest more than $30.8 million.

“Neopac US was incorporated in Delaware in 2011 and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hoffmann Neopac AG, based in Switzerland. Neopac US creates high-barrier tubes used for pharmaceutical and cosmetic formulas. With this project, Neopac will build a new facility with a clean room and high-speed tube line. The facility will have room for expansion of up to four high-speed production lines.”

Salaries will vary by position. Once all positions are filled, the annual payroll impact will be approximately $2.8 million.

The release goes on, and we kept reading so you don’t have to.

“A performance-based grant of $300,000 from the One North Carolina Fund will help facilitate Neopac’s move to North Carolina.”

Enough said.

It’s tough to collect a paycheck when you’re dead

Wake County, writes the News & Observer, wants to offer companies incentives to locate or expand in low-income parts of the county — if they meet certain requirements such as paying a “living wage.”

“We’ve got to figure out how to bring high-paying jobs in but also bring working class folks up,” Commissioner Matt Calabria, who pushed for the new incentive, told the paper.

A business, the paper says, must create 50 jobs, with a high average salary, and must make a $25 million investment in order to get county funds. “The new ‘vulnerable communities’ incentive would only require a $2 million investment and 20 full-time jobs, where the average salary is Wake County’s living wage of $14.56.”

Some companies, the N & O says, interested in Wake County don’t meet the job and investment limits to get county money.

“Right now we have a ‘you-must-be-this-tall-to-ride’ economic development policy, which is fine,” Calabria says in the story. “It’s what everybody does. The idea is to also recognize the kind of things we want to see in our community.”

Things like economic growth based on entrepreneurial spirit and free-market principles, maybe?

Eat your veggies. That’s an order

County officials want Farm Fresh Produce Inc. to keep expanding in Sampson County, and they’ve “sweetened the deal by approving an incentives proposal this week,” writes the Sampson Independent.

“The incentives will be over a five-year period in the amount of $74,036.”

There are, of course, some loose strings, including, the paper says, creating 36 full-time jobs at an average salary of $21,000 to $22,000 and expanding its 82,400-square-foot building with a new addition of 62,500 square feet of sweet potato curing and storage facilities.

Numbers provided by Swope show a taxable investment of $4.1 million by Farm Fresh, the story says, and the incentives proposal is contingent on that. The plan also includes a ‘claw-back’ provision regarding jobs and investment.

Farm Fresh began in 2010 as a produce marketing and selling company with six employees and corporate offices in Faison, the Independent says. “In 2016, the company renovated and converted a 20,000-square-foot building into packing facilities and constructed a curing barn on its 44-acre site. … That location has 55 employees, with approximately 110 containers of sweet potatoes being shipped from the location each day.

“In September 2017, the county presented the company with a $180,000 grant check from the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Building Reuse Grant Program.”

Another serving, please.

County officials also have plans to apply to N.C. Department of Commerce for a second Building Reuse Program grant, and, based on projected employment numbers, Farm Fresh would be eligible for another $180,000 check should the application be successful, according to the paper says John Swope, executive director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission.