Rowan's bid for Hitachi jobs faces foreign competition

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Facing international competition, Rowan County commis-sioners agreed Monday to offer an incentive grant to a project that could create 148 jobs.
Hitachi Metals of China Grove is considering a joint venture that would call for a $71.6 million investment at its plant off N.C. 152.
Hitachi is the principal partner in the project. Its partners are said to be considering other sites in the United States and Asia.
“This is our opportunity to put ourselves in front as they make their final decisions as a corporation,” said Robert Van Geons, director of RowanWorks Economic Development, at the special meeting of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
At first, the company asked for a Level Two grant under Rowan County’s investment grant program, which would equal 80 percent of the tax revenue generated by the project.
But Van Geons said Monday that the request had changed to a Level One grant for 75 percent of the tax revenue.
Based in Tokyo, Hitachi is a multinational corporation that specializes in high technology, machinery and public infrastructure.
Since 1990, the company has operated a plant in Rowan County that produces arc-segment magnets for use in motors.
Hitachi Metals President Pat Barton said the new joint venture would be a company that mines rare earth materials, and its China Grove facility would make rare earth magnets.
“It’s a different type of magnet than the ferrite magnet we make,” Barton said. “It will be used in hydroelectric vehicles and also in wind power applications. It also will be used in elevators and the defense industry as well.”
The joint venture would invest $42.1 million in new equipment and construction and create 92 jobs in 2013, according to a project schedule. Two years later, the schedule calls for $29.5 million more investment and 56 more jobs.
The minimum investment threshold for the county’s Level Two grant is $50 million, which would be met in the second phase of the project but not the first. Level One grants only require a $5 million investment.
Van Geons said the company wants to make sure it can meet and exceed the county’s expectations.
Commissioner Carl Ford said he has wanted the county to do something for its existing businesses for a while, and now it has had several chances to do so.
“I’m glad to have Hitachi Metals in Rowan County,” Ford said. “They’re evolving as a company and changing with the market, which is smart.”
The proposed project could result in $11.8 million a year in direct and indirect salaries, according to an economic impact analysis compiled by Van Geons.
Over the five years of the Level One grant, the county would collect $1,861,848 in tax revenue and give the company incentives of $1,396,386. This would net the county $465,462, which is $93,092 more than it would have received by giving a Level Two grant.
Over 10 years, the county would net nearly $2.7 million in new revenue.
Commissioner Jim Sides asked if the company also has requested a grant from the town of China Grove, which also will benefit from new tax revenue.
Van Geons replied that there was not enough time before the company meets to make its decision at the end of this month.
“They have supported our agreements in the past,” Van Geons said. “If we are able to work this out, we will continue to move forward, and if we need to ask China Grove in order to make it work, we will.”
Hitachi has received incentives in the past, Sides said, and it’s against the county’s policy to give incentives to the same company twice.
Van Geons said the new incentive grant would not go to Hitachi but to its joint venture company, which would employ the new workers.
“I think it’s important for the public to be informed about who we’re dealing with,” Sides said. “We’re giving an incentive to a company we can’t even name.”
Commissioner Jon Barber said the county knows it is dealing with Hitachi Metals, and he understands the need to keep the project confidential at this time.
No one spoke during a public hearing about the incentive grant Monday. The board voted 3-1 to approve it.
Commissioner Jim Sides voted against the grant, saying he wants the project in Rowan County but thinks incentives are a “bad deal” for county taxpayers.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain was absent from the meeting.
Barton thanked the board for its support, which will help the company secure funding from the state.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.