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County improves incentive: Freightliner says Rowan ‘right place’ for business

by Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
Production of military vehicles at Freightliner’s Cleveland plant could be the first step in building a network of military-related businesses.
A Freightliner official told county commissioners Monday evening that the Cleveland plant in Rowan County is the most logical place ó “the right place to do business.”
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to give Freightliner (Daimler North American Trucks) a five-year incentive grant. It will rebate 75 percent of county taxes due on new investment.
The company is projected to spend $16 million to retool a portion of the Cleveland plant to build the much heavier military trucks, which include armor plating.
As part of the agreement, Freightliner agrees to maintain the current 695 jobs and will expand as the economy and Defense Department contract allows.
Under the five-year incentive grant approved, the county would collect an estimated $63,000 in taxes annually on the new investment, rebating $47,000 to the company while keeping $16,000.
David M. Trebing, the company’s general manager of state and local relations, said volume will determine the number of jobs. He said the focus will be on making the operation as competitive as possible.
Robert VanGeons, executive director of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, suggested the the potential impact of bringing military truck production here could be far greater.
He pointed out that Rowan County will be the place military trucks are produced. “If we can do it right, it can be a strategy, we can leverage it … bring in suppliers.”
Commissioner Tina Hall, who has voted against other incentives, said keeping the existing jobs was the key to her decision. “These 695 jobs are very, very valuable to every family.”
At one point, the Cleveland plant had more than 4,000 employees.
Other commissioners weighed in giving their reasons for support.
Chad Mitchell noted that some will say the county is giving up $47,000 a year in taxes while keeping $16,000.
“If we don’t do it, we’re losing $16,000,” Mitchell said. “Our only tool in the toolbox (to attract jobs) is incentives.”
Vice Chairman Jon Barber praised Freightliner for its long record of commitment to the community.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain asked about moving the military production from Portland, Ore.
Trebing said it located there originally because of a truck production facility, but now the company’s manufacturing and suppliers are in North Carolina.
He said Freightliner is as cash-strapped as county and state governments, pointing out that truck producers haven’t got the federal dollars that have gone to Detroit.
Commission Chairman Carl Ford said he has heard from a lot of Freightliner employees and former employees. All urged him to support the incentives to keep the jobs.
Under the agreement, the company would be penalized if employment drops below 695.
And the agreement will include the county’s new ban on hiring undocumented aliens either at the plant or during construction.
Several members of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission attended the session.
Jim Sides, a former commissioner, was the lone speaker during the public hearing.
Sides, who said his comments weren’t directed at Freightliner, pointed to the large companies demanding incentives, while small business make up 99 percent of the U.S. economy and get nothing.

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