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Counties like Rowan could see benefits from Apple’s move into North Carolina

SALISBURY — Although Apple’s new East Coast campus and engineering hub will be built in Wake County, the tech company’s investment will have a ripple effect that benefits counties across the state — including Rowan.

Earlier this week, Apple announced that it will invest $1 billion and create at least 3,000 new, high paying jobs in Research Triangle Park. In addition to its campus in Wake County, Apple also will invest nearly $500 million to expand its data center near Maiden in Catawba County.

To make the landmark move happen, the state of North Carolina gave the tech giant a Job Development Investment Grant totaling about $845 million over 39 years, the largest JDIG grant given in the program’s history.

Since Apple’s new facility will be in Wake County, a tier three county in the state’s distress rankings, the company’s agreement with the state calls for moving as much as $112.4 million into the state’s Industrial Development Fund – Utility Account, over the life of the grant. The utility account is utilized by rural counties to bolster infrastructure in an effort to improve their ability to attract companies and economic development opportunities. Grants from the utility account are accessible to the 80 tier two and tier one counties, including Rowan, which was downgraded to a tier one county last year.

Mark Poole, a financial analyst for the Department of Commerce, said grants from the utility account help counties that have been bypassed by companies before because they didn’t have “shovel-ready sites” available.

“The utility account has made a number of significant awards over the last several years that have invested in land rather than the companies,” Poole said.

Poole said the account typically has $11 million to $13 million in available funds annually and distributes grants on a rolling basis when municipalities submit strong applications.

“There’s a ‘Field of Dreams’ type attitude where communities come to us with a strategy that basically convinces us that they’re on the right path,” Poole said. “If they have these things in place, they’re going to be successful.”

Rod Crider, president of the Rowan Economic Development Commission, said Granite Quarry was a recent recipient of a grant through the utility account. 

The town used a $208,350 grant awarded in December of 2018 to build sewer infrastructure for the Granite Industrial Park. Imperial Supplies recently moved from its former home on Litton Drive into a 150,000-square-foot distribution center in the park and plans on hiring an additional 20 employees.

With more funding entering the utility account thanks to Apple’s arrival, there will be greater opportunities for municipalities in Rowan County to improve infrastructure to lure in new businesses.

“With $110 (million) or $112 million being distributed across 80 counties, that’s $1.5 million per county if you divided it up equally, which they won’t, but that could have a big impact on smaller counties,” Crider said.

The tech company’s announcement means more than increased funding available to counties like Rowan; it’s also an immediate help to Crider and his team at the Rowan EDC.

“It kind of puts the gold seal of approval on the state of North Carolina as the place to do business,” Crider said. “That is going to have positive benefits for us from an image and branding standpoint.”

Crider said Apple’s arrival could result in a “domino effect” that brings other businesses to the state.

“It was a big decision for them to select North Carolina and that will only benefit us because other people will then take a look because N.C. will look like a place to invest,” Crider said. “When they do, Rowan County will have the opportunity to grow as a result.”

Crider said Rowan County won’t be getting an Apple or Google campus anytime soon, but leaders have their eyes on landing smaller technology companies. Crider pointed to Integro Technologies and Turnkey Solutions as two technology companies that already exist in the area. 

Data centers, he said, could be a potential target for the Rowan EDC given Salisbury’s robust internet infrastructure.

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