China Grove council discusses incentives for 5,100-job project, sets hearing for later this month
Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022
CHINA GROVE — The Town Council on Tuesday night set the stage for a called meeting later this month to consider a generous incentive grant to help land a 5,100-job economic development project.
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, which is said to be a “household name,” is interested in locating the facility near exit 68 in China Grove. The specific property targeted is the planned 85 North Logistics Center. Mayor Charles Seaford said he’s been told the company would be involved in the community and would be a great partner for the town.
Rowan County is one of four sites currently being considered for the project, joining locations in South Carolina, another Charlotte-area county and a site in Ohio.
“Based on the competition that we’re facing for this project, it is important to put the best offer forward,” said Scott Shelton, vice president of the Rowan Economic Development Council. “So, my advice would be to go as strong as we possibly can.”
The Rowan EDC is asking China Grove Town Council to approve a 15-year grant that would have the town return 80% of new taxes paid by the company each year. The terms of the incentive grant mirror what the Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved last month. While the county is projected to retain $6.8 million during the incentive period, China Grove would retain about $5.6 million after giving back about $22.4 million of the $28 million collected during those 15 years.
The Town Council scheduled a meeting to vote on the incentive package for Feb. 15 at 6 p.m. However, some council members on Tuesday night foreshadowed how they plan to vote.
Councilman Rodney Phillips said he’s struggled with the terms of the deal due to his propensity for negotiating, but said he would hold his nose and vote in its favor. Phillips said too many people have done too much to land the project for China Grove to not do its part to help. Mayor Pro Tem Arthur Heggins echoed that sentiment and said he would likely give his support as well.
Councilman Don Bringle said he’s wrestled with the terms of the incentive deal, especially since it would indicate to other prospective employers considering China Grove what the town council is willing to offer.
“The bar now is going to be set at 15 (years), so I think any industry coming in are going to expect no less than what this offer is at,” Bringle said. “As we move along, whether we like it or not, the bar is going to be set and it’s going to be hard to convince a company coming in for anything less than that.”
However, Bringle said he is supportive of “being able to move forward with the opportunity to land, or at least have a chance, to land an industry such as this.”
Councilman Steve Stroud said he doesn’t see the cost-benefit analysis of the deal landing in China Grove’s favor since the town would receive less than a half-million dollars in tax revenue per year from the project during the 15-year term of the incentive.
“I suggested we offered a lesser package than what’s being talked about,” Stroud said. “We may lose it. We may not. I don’t know. If we lose this one and we get a sweeter deal next year, then we’re better off in my opinion. I’m not ready to support giving that kind of a package.”
Stroud said he is skeptical the company would be able to find enough employees to meet its job creation goals due to the current labor shortages being faced by employers across the country. Stroud said he was appreciative of the work the Rowan EDC has put into the project.
Shelton said consultants working with the company informed them last month that Rowan County would become the favorite for the project if it approved the incentive grant. But even if China Grove matches the deal offered by the county, Shelton said it could take the state coming forward with an incentive deal of its own for Rowan County to land Project Rabbit.
He said the company is likely going to make a decision in the next several weeks weeks and that an announcement could be made in March if Rowan County is selected.