New Hanover County Supports Job Growth, Economic Development
By County Manager Chris Coudriet
Economic development incentives are an important aspect of New Hanover County’s strategy to encourage the private sector to grow, create jobs, invest in our community and strengthen our tax base.
According to Senior Economist Timothy J. Bartik of the W.E. Upjohn Institute, over the past quarter century, state and local business tax incentives to promote economic development have tripled in size. That can clearly be seen around the country, especially in the recent incentives (that total in the billions) being offered to lure Amazon to U.S. cities.
While New Hanover County may not be primed for a company the size of Amazon right now, we are ready for private investment, new businesses and more jobs.
The Cape Fear area has more than 200,000 skilled workers, with nearly 30 percent of the workforce having a four-year degree or higher. The people who live here are poised for better job opportunities, and a strategic priority of the Board of Commissioners is to increase the diversity and number of higher wage jobs. Economic development incentives are one way that the county can accomplish that goal.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, April 2, commissioners approved a $350,000 economic development incentive grant to help bring National Gypsum, a drywall plant, back to our area. This grant would be paid out over five years ($70,000 each year), based on the company’s actual performance and ability to meet financial and job-growth milestones.
If Wilmington is selected, National Gypsum would invest more than $25 million in capital improvements and bring at least 51 new jobs with average wages over $57,000 to our community. Jobs with the company vary – from administrative, technical and leadership positions – so there would be a diverse range of jobs available for our residents.
The county’s incentive grant, along with a separate grant approved by the Wilmington City Council, help to make New Hanover County an appealing and competitive option for the company.
The decision to offer this incentive grant was not made quickly or without careful research. New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington worked closely with Wilmington Business Development to build an incentive model that blends real and business personal property investment with job numbers and wage value. An economic impact assessment was also conducted to determine induced benefits of National Gypsum’s operations.
The analysis shows a positive cash flow return for our community each year, with an increase in property tax revenue starting in the very first year of operations. That is a significant and immediate return.
While there has been tremendous business support for this investment, community concerns were also raised about any potential health effects from the company’s air emissions – particularly formaldehyde. That’s why commissioners decided to table the item in February to learn more and allow for additional research.
I commend our commissioners and the county’s public health director for their diligence in understanding potential health effects related to the company’s operations. They explored all citizen concerns and received expert information to understand the company’s operations, potential air emissions and DEQ’s permit process.
DEQ’s permit allowances are driven by public health protections, and that – coupled with the science presented – led public health experts to determine there is no health concern with the operation of this facility in our community. I appreciate the time that the board and public health director took to thoroughly research this and keep the focus on the health of our citizens.
Offering incentive grants to the private sector must be a community conversation, and I am glad that our citizens joined the conversation, so that we could all be more informed and educated.
As a result of those public conversations, commissioners asked that National Gypsum conduct new emissions testing within one year of reopening, and the company agreed to this as a condition in the incentive grant.
I do feel that National Gypsum – a business that has been researched and is merited – would be a welcome asset to New Hanover County and a good community partner. The company would grow our tax base, increase the number of well-paying jobs, and bring more manufacturing jobs to the community that make traded sector products. It fits directly into the county’s five-year strategic plan, and I hope the company chooses to reopen their operation in Wilmington.
Strategic economic investments like this will help our community grow and thrive. It will ensure that New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington remain competitive with other communities across the country. And it will help create a more sustainable environment for private investment that will lead to greater success for individuals and families in our region.