Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
County commissioners have agreed to seek a state grant that will allow a Cleveland company to expand.
And commissioners are talking about the need for an economic summit to look at ways to bring more jobs to the county.
At their meeting last week, commissioners unanimously approved a proposal by Salisbury-Rowan Utilities to seek $665,000 in state grants to extend a 12-inch waterline from U.S. 70 to the RDH Tire and Retread Co. off Redmon Road.
The company will pay a $35,000 match and plans to add 29 to 32 jobs in a $2.5-million expansion once the water is available.
The company, which retreads off-road tires for the construction industry, also has future plans for a $6 million to $10 million expansion.
The company produces 50 or more tires per day, using 3 million pounds of rubber annually.
At Monday’s meeting, Matt Bernhardt, assistant city manger for utilities and director of the utility company, said the water is needed for the company’s boilers to support a sprinkler system, which is required for expansion, and for drinking water for employees. The company’s current well doesn’t provide potable water for employees.
The project involves installing 5,400 feet of 12-inch water main from U.S. 70 to the Gatton Road business.
Homer Huskins, RDH owner, said the average hourly pay ranges from $15 to $25 an hour and emphasized that 98 percent of his employees live in Rowan County.
Huskins also pointed out the company has 200 acres to expand and plans to grow as its business does.
The company is one of only a few in the country that retreads off-road tires.
Two commissioners who are staunch opponents of incentives, Tina Hall and Jim Sides, praised the project and RDH Tire for its efforts to create jobs.
“I’m 100 percent in favor of this kind of application,” Sides said. “This is a project we need (RDH) is a good corporate citizen. They provide good jobs.”
“I appreciate your expansion and the new jobs,” Hall said.
Sides and Hall combined to offer the motion to approve the grant application, which won unanimous approval.
Under the grant rules, the city or the utility company is not eligible to seek the grant, only the county.
Sides did object to the ownership of the waterline reverting to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.
To avoid later questions, Chairman Arnold Chamberlain also disclosed that Huskins is his neighbor, adding their acquaintance had nothing to do with the grant application.
Bernhardt and Huskins appeared together at Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting and gave a similar presentation.
Bernhardt told the council it was “an everyone wins kind of scenario.”
The waterline will lead to 32 new jobs at no direct cost to the taxpayer, Bernhardt said. It also improves fire protection, provides a safe water supply and sets the stage for an even bigger expansion in the future, he said.
Huskins, noting that his company will be at the end of the new waterline, told the council it might want to consider tying the water main in with one going to West Rowan High School so it makes a loop.
Later in the commissioners’ meeting Monday, Hall and Commissioner Jon Barber talked briefly about the need to hold an economic summit to focus on ways to create new jobs for county residents.
Hall cited efforts of other counties in the area and municipalities, including Mooresville.
With the rising unemployment rate and unstable job situation at Freightliner, this might be a good time for a summit to look for new ideas and approaches.
Barber focused on the swings in the county’s jobless rate, noting that the county absorbed the massive layoff when Pillowtex closed. He noted the unemployment rate soared to 12 percent and a year later had dropped to 5.6 percent. Barber said people found work either in the county or adjacent counties.
But Chamberlain said hundreds of the laid off Pillowtex workers never found jobs. They simply quit looking and are still without work.
On the other hand, Chamberlain said, Freightliner employees knew they would be laid off at some point.
Chamberlain said a summit would be fine, but it should be an initiative from the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission. “Let the experts do it,” he added.
Hall and Barber serve as the county commission’s liaisons to the Economic Development Commission.
Staff writer Mark Wineka contributed to this story. Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or