County OKs Toyota package

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

By a split vote, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a tax rebate program for Toyota.

Toyota Racing Development plans to by the 89-acre W.A. Cline property on Peach Orchard Road and invest $22 million in facilities and equipment. The initial stage is expected to bring 40 jobs with an average annual income of $70,000.

The county will rebate 75 percent of property taxes paid by Toyota for a period of five years. Based on the $22 million investment, the total rebate is projected to be $519,000. That could change if the investment total changes.

While commissioners and the public welcomed Toyota to the county, they split over the potential impact Toyota will have on the county, and over offering tax rebates or incentives.

“Welcome, you guys,” said Chairman Arnold Chamberlain to Toyota officials attending the hearing once the vote was taken. “Make this thing happen.”

David Wilson, vice president of Toyota Racing Development and Sanford Smith, a Toyota official involved in selecting the site, attended the meeting but didn’t comment.

“Bring us more,” said Commissioner Jon Barber, who joined Chamberlain and Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell in supporting the incentives.

Mitchell recalled the unsuccessful efforts of the county and the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission to land the “big fish” for the past several years. “If not a big fish, it’s the sighting of a whale.”

He pointed out that the county will get more than $200,000 in taxes over the next five years it wouldn’t receive if the land remained vacant.

Commissioner Tina Hall joined Commissioner Jim Sides in voting against the incentive.

Hall said the county is banking on the hope that Toyota will stay, expand its investment and attract more spinoff businesses. “Hope is not a good business strategy,” she said.

Hall called for a revision of the county’s incentive policy.

Sides looked directly at two Toyota officials attending the hearing and said he would be thrilled if the company comes to Rowan County.

“I won’t pay you to come,” said Sides, ticking off a long list of statistics to show the success of the company worldwide.

During the public hearing, speakers overwhelmingly supported Toyota.

Dyke Messinger, president of Power Curbers, touted Toyota’s overall investment in the United States and its track record on the environment and education.

Phil Morse, who owns a racing-related business in Speedway Business Park, compared Toyota to the big anchor store in a retail center.

“Toyota is not just any old business. It’s as good a business as you can get,” said Morse, president of Morse Measurements.

Other speakers, including Jeff Leach, questioned whether the jobs Toyota will bring will be filled by Rowan residents.

Leach said the anchor for the motorsports business is Lowes Motor Speedway. “This is a spin of the speedway.”

At a meeting last month, Toyota officials were optimistic about the potential benefits for the county.

“This will clearly establish Rowan County as a new nucleus for the racing business in North Carolina,” Smith said.

Toyota conducted a multi-state search and then narrowed the finalists to counties near Charlotte, including Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell and Mecklenburg, as well as Rowan. Initially, 21 sites in the five counties were considered, with the short list cut to four sites within Cabarrus, Iredell and Rowan.

Toyota plans to build a 35,000-square-foot engineering and design facility on 10 acres to support its affiliated race teams, including NASCAR Nextel Cup and Craftsman Truck Series competitors. Employees there would work mainly on chassis development. Toyota would set aside 30 acres for potential future expansion.