Several speakers offered comments during a public hearing Thursday night on proposed incentives for an expanded-minded company in Mount Airy, but all had a common theme:
Local government should do what it can to support the businesses and industries already here — which sometimes are overlooked in the mad rush to recruit manufacturers from outside.
“I think it’s important that we seize every opportunity to grow our town,” said Will Jackson of Chatham Road, one person who spoke during the hearing before the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners. Jackson is a member of the group Mount Airy Professionals of Surry (MAPS), which emphasizes a home-grown philosophy by seeking to cultivate younger leaders with ties to the county.
An opportunity to aid a company with roots firmly entrenched here has presented itself through “Project Shield,” a code name assigned to plans by that unnamed metal-working industry to expand and create 20 new jobs.
“They’ve been in our area for a while and they’re wanting to grow,” said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership (EDP), another person who spoke at the hearing during the commissioners’ meeting.
The subject of the hearing was an incentive package totaling $33,090 to aid the expansion. The company, in addition to creating 20 jobs over a two-year period, plans to invest $1.5 million for new equipment and upgrades to a building as part of the project.
Mount Airy has received some good economic news recently, local chamber of commerce official Betty Ann Collins said during her turn at the podium for the hearing. Collins was referring to a decision by Awesome Products, a California-based corporation, to establish a plant in the former Bassett Furniture Industries building to manufacture cleaning products.
But the Project Shield endeavor represents an extra dimension, added Collins, the president and CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce. “This is exceptionally good news, because it’s an existing local industry,” she said.
“It’s good when we get a new industry (from elsewhere), but it’s wonderful when we have one that’s already invested in the community.”
Tucker, the Economic Development Partnership official, implied during the public hearing that existing local businesses often are overlooked in recruitment efforts, but they add jobs to Surry’s economy — sometimes quietly.
“Every job counts,” Tucker said.
He also said that while the incentives are given in the form of rebates of property tax rebates to be generated in the coming years from the expansion, the community gets much in return from the new jobs and other benefits.
“We think it’s a good investment,” he said on behalf of the EDP. “It’s not a giveaway.”
Collins also said the $33,090 incentive package offered by the city, which includes a $5,000 matching grant from the North Carolina Rural Center, is a relatively small investment. It approximates the annual salary of one person, while the 20 jobs to be created will make a big difference to 20 families, she said.
“Good-paying jobs” are involved, Tucker said. “The highest, I think, is $48,000 a year.”
The positions will require high-level skills, with Tucker saying that a pre-employment training program is being assembled in order to get the new workers in place as soon as possible.
Hearing speakers indicated that the manufacturer has a bright future, and the expansion at hand could be followed by others as well as more jobs.
“We’ve worked with this company for several years now,” said George Sappenfield, vice president of corporate and continuing education at Surry Community College, who coordinates training programs for industries.
“And they’ve shown that they’re dedicated to be here,” Sappenfield said.
He said providing the Project Shield incentives might set a “good precedent” for existing businesses as well as speak well for the local economic-development team in the outside world.
After Thursday’s public hearing, the commissioners approved the incentives unanimously.
Earlier this week, Surry officials had OK’d a county government incentives package.
Mayor Deborah Cochran said the Project Shield company is already doing some hiring, even before the expansion plans involving the incentives are executed.
It presently has about 60 employees.
• Also Thursday night, the Mount Airy commissioners voted to set a public hearing for April 18 for consideration of a voluntary annexation and rezoning of property at the intersection of Greenhill and Avondale roads at the northern end of town.
This action came on the heels of the city clerk investigating an annexation petition submitted by property owner Jack Snow and finding it to be sufficient.
Along with annexation, Snow is requesting that the zoning of the vacant site be changed from its present residential classification to B-4 (Highway Business). The moves are sought in order to sell the property as a commercial location due to its limitations for residential use, based on previous reports.
The half-acre site is in the 100-block of Avondale Road at Greenhill Road, near U.S. 52.
• A scheduled discussion of board meeting/protocol, which had been requested by Commissioner Scott Graham, was postponed to a future meeting until more information can be obtained. The nature of the issue involved was not disclosed Thursday night.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.