Rabbits, Bishops and Popcorn: Rowan EDC updates China Grove on economic projects

Published 9:34 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2022

CHINA GROVE — The Rowan Economic Development Council Tuesday night provided the Town Council with an update on several pending economic projects that could bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in investment to the area.

Rowan EDC President Rod Crider and Vice President Scott Shelton gave council members the most up-to-date information on “Project Popcorn,” “Project Bishop” and “Project Rabbit,” which is the newest and largest of the three potential developments.

“Project Popcorn” emerged in early 2021. The company behind the codename is in the food processing industry and considering locating a new facility in southern Rowan County. Estimates were that the project would result in the creation of 1,200 jobs and millions of dollars in new construction and equipment.

Shelton said the company has shifted its emphasis to looking for an existing building instead of a site for new construction. While that doesn’t favor Rowan County because of the current lack of large unoccupied buildings, it doesn’t mean the county has been completely ruled out yet.

“We think if they don’t find one, they’ll probably come back to looking at sites again,” Shelton said.

In that case, Rowan County could once again emerge as a destination.

“It’s still out there,” Shelton said. “It still could happen. We just don’t have any updates besides that right now.”

Shelton also gave the council an update on “Project Bishop,” which materialized in the fall. The company behind the project is an online retailer planning a new e-commerce fulfillment center. The center would bring 1,000 jobs over the next four years and about $400 million in new construction and equipment. Both the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the town of China Grove approved incentive grants for the project.

Shelton told China Grove Town Council members in November that an announcement on “Project Bishop” would likely come after the holiday season, but the decision has been delayed.

“We were given an update right before the holidays by the state and apparently the company behind ‘Project Bishop’ has had a management change. And with that, it’s delayed the company’s timeline,” Shelton said. “We were told way back when it was going to be a pretty fast-moving project and now we’re being told it’s more likely to be February or March before we have a decision on that.”

The third project Shelton discussed was “Project Rabbit.” The largest and newest of the three, it would bring 2,500 full-time jobs, 2,000 seasonal part-time jobs and over $584 million in new construction and equipment.

“This one could be huge for everybody,” Shelton said. “China Grove, Rowan County, the Charlotte region. We’re really hoping we stay in the running for this.”

The company behind “Project Rabbit” is an online retailer looking for a distribution facility, Shelton said. While Rowan County is in competition with at least two other counties for the project, Shelton said he believes the company likes the workforce in Rowan. 

The company appears to be interested in the “I-85 North Logistics Center,” which is a planned development by the Silverman Group and located just off exit 68, not far from Carson High School. The company behind “Project Bishop” also had eyes on that property.

China Grove Councilman Don Bringle asked Shelton what would happen if both “Project Rabbit” and “Project Bishop” materialized at the same time.

“I think what it’s going to boil down to is whoever strikes an agreement first with the developer and it’s under control of Silverman,” Shelton said.

Commissioners on Monday night scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 18 regarding an incentive deal for the project. The China Grove Town Council on Tuesday night followed suit and scheduled a public hearing for its next meeting on Feb. 4.

“Obviously, we need to discuss a strong incentive package for (“Project Rabbit”), Shelton said.

Whether it’s “Project Bishop” or “Project Rabbit,” Shelton is optimistic in Rowan County landing one of the major economic development opportunities. 

“We’re trying really hard to drag one of these across the finish line,” Shelton said. “We do think it’s a matter of time.”