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Editorial: Job projections unlikely to be ceiling for Chewy

“Pet product retailer to bring 1,200 jobs to Rowan,” stated the boldface headline at the top of the April 16 edition of the Salisbury Post.

Economic development officials heralded it as the largest, single jobs announcement in our county’s history. And the statements by elected and appointed leaders do not fully capture the weight of the excitement about Chewy.com’s plans to open a fulfillment center here; the three county commissioners elected in 2014 — Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman — have been looking for a single item to which they can point as proof that their leadership has put our community on the right path.

On the economic front, there have been many job announcements across Rowan County.

But more companies have quietly expanded or added jobs without the need or desire for publicity. In this case, however, the benefits of publicity in the two weeks following the announcement have been good for all involved. That Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to appear at a groundbreaking this week will bring added attention to what Edds called “something that should make every citizen of Rowan County proud.”

“We beat out some heavy-hitting communities in multiple states across the Southeast,” Edds wrote in a social media post after the announcement.

Among those heavy-hitting communities is Spartanburg County, South Carolina, which reportedly came in second.

Much more important than the positive publicity of the announcement, however, will be how well Chewy.com’s business fares over the long term.

Amid the realities of today’s economy, it’s our hope that the 1,200 jobs in Cooper’s announcement and the 1,250 jobs required in a tax incentive agreement are a floor instead of a ceiling for job growth at the fulfillment center, especially if the national economy continues humming along at its current rate.

Consider as a possible example news in December 1963.

“Fiber Industries today announced plans to build a plant which will employ approximately 1,000 people in the production of polyester fibers for industrial uses, particularly for tire cord,” stated the Dec. 16, 1963 edition of the Salisbury Evening Post.

Four years later, the plant in Barber had grown to more than twice that intial estimate. Its 25-million gallon-per-month use of water put it at the head of the class among Salisbury’s water customers. It used more electricity, more natural gas and employed more people than any other industrial plan in Rowan by 1968, too.

The plant’s life came to an end 51 years after its opening, when DuraFiber Technologies in 2017 closed it and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. At its closure, the plant employed 370 people.

While the nature of Chewy’s business at the fulfillment center — picking and pulling products to ship to pet owners — means it may not be the largest industrial user of water, electricity or gas, there’s reason to believe the initial job projection is lower than what we’ll see once the plant begins hiring.

U.S. retail e-commerce sales — buying products online rather than in a brick-and-mortar store — have been on a steady incline, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2018 fourth quarter — October through December — seasonally adjusted estimate for sales across the country was $132.8 billion. Ten years prior, the same number was $35.9 billion. Said another way, people are shifting an increasing portion of their shopping online.

That’s led to the creation of companies such as Chewy. As we increasingly rely on the internet and technology to complete daily tasks, the trend of steady inclines in e-commerce sales will continue.

If local politicians can use additional jobs as positive publicity for future campaigns, so be it because our community will be better off as a result.

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