Commissioners approve $27 million in incentives in bid for largest job announcement in county history

Published 9:30 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2022

SALISBURY — To land Rowan County’s largest job announcement ever, the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night approved an unprecedented tax incentive grant worth $27 million.

The company behind what’s being called Project Rabbit is an online retailer considering a new e-commerce fulfillment center in southern Rowan County. The project would create 2,500 full-time and 2,600 seasonal part-time jobs and lead to a $584.3 million investment in new construction and equipment. The company behind the project appears to be targeting land near exit 68 in China Grove.

To encourage the company’s arrival, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved a 15-year incentive grant that would have the county return 80% of new taxes paid by the company each year. The grant is much more generous than the typical level three grant offered by the county, which is five years at 85% taxes returned. The county will also waive the $2,500 expedited permitting fee.

By awarding the 15-year incentive instead of a standard grant, Project Rabbit would receive an additional $14 million. The tax revenue retained by the county during the incentive period would be $6.8 million.

“We understand this is a very large ask for the board, but we feel this project would have a huge impact on Rowan County and also feel this package would put us in a better position to land Project Rabbit,” said Scott Shelton, vice president of the Rowan Economic Development Council.

The incentive grant surpasses the 10-year deal the county approved for Chewy, the online pet retail company that announced its arrival in Rowan County in 2019. Chewy received 80% of paid taxes back in the first five years and 50% in the second.

“I’ll say we’re doing well financially as a county so we can go after companies like this because our No. 1 concern is helping folks get jobs” Chair Greg Edds said.

Shelton said Project Rabbit would likely draw workers from outside Rowan County to fill thousands of open positions. Those workers will spend money at Rowan County businesses and generate additional sales tax revenue for the county, he said. Shelton said the project would create an additional 698 indirect and induced jobs in Rowan County. The indirect and induced jobs would generate $35 million in wages and benefits and $89.9 million in gross revenue for the companies.

“This affects the culture of a community,” Edds said. “It gets mom and dad out of three part-time jobs when they’re having a tough time being home with their kid helping them with school. It helps them consolidate those jobs hopefully into one job with full benefits and retirement and future and hope. From our side of looking at this, we are willing to forgo some financial tax revenue benefit in order to create this scenario of better hope and opportunity for folks.”

An average wage for the positions associated with Project Rabbit was not divulged. The company’s name also hasn’t been released.

In response to a question from Commissioner Mike Caskey about how long the seasonal jobs associated with the project would last, Shelton said he was unsure. The Rowan EDC modeled the impact of Project Rabbit under the assumption that the part-time positions would last for four months at 20 hours per week.

County leaders are excited about what Project Rabbit could mean for China Grove.

“When you say it’s going to impact China Grove, that’s an understatement if we’re able to land this,” Vice Chair Jim Greene said. “It will just mean more jobs for everybody: restaurants, gas stations, every business you can think of they’re going to have a lot more customers in the future because of this huge half a billion dollar investment.”

The China Grove Town Council will consider approving its own incentive grant for Project Rabbit when it meets on Feb. 1.

For Rowan County to land Project Rabbit, Edds said it will need help from Gov. Roy Cooper and the state.

“We are so grateful for the help we have received from the governor’s office and department of commerce in the past and we are asking passionately for their help in this project,” Edds said. “We will look forward to celebrating with all of them when the ribbon is cut on this.”

Shelton said the Rowan EDC has requested the state consider disbursing applicable grants to help the county secure Project Rabbit.

If Rowan County is chosen for Project Rabbit, Shelton said the announcement could lead to even more development in the future.

“It’ll cause more consultants, more companies to consider Rowan County,” Shelton said. “It’s similar to the Chewy effect. After Chewy, people all of the sudden started talking about Rowan County and I think you’ll see something like that.”

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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