ROCKINGHAM — A bill recently passed by the state Senate could lend a helping hand in attracting businesses — and in turn, jobs — to Richmond County.
House Bill 117, the North Carolina Competes Act, extends the Job Development Investment Grant program an additional three years.
While the program was slated to sunset at the end of the year, the Richmond County Board of Commissioners in February adopted a resolution in support of re-authorization.
County economic developer Martie Butler said the program is very important and hopes the bill will pass.
“In the past, JDIG has been reserved for larger employment projects,” she said Wednesday. “Typically 200 jobs and above.”
During an April economic incentive event, she said JDIG has served Richmond County well, although it wasn’t the most utilized state grant.
At the same event, Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, said that Job Development Investment Grants don’t work well for small counties because of a 175-job minimum requirement.
However, the new bill reduces the minimum to 10 jobs for Tier 1 counties — like Richmond, Anson and Scotland — 20 for Tier 2 counties and 5o for the more prosperous Tier 3 counties.
“I am pleased that the eligibility requirement for a JDIG grant in Tier 1 counties was reduced to 10 employees or greater,” McInnis said Wednesday. “I’m unhappy that the average weekly wage requirement for Tier 1 was not reduced accordingly.”
McInnis said because the average weekly wage requirement remains so high, many companies offering entry-level positions will remain ineligible for a grant in a Tier 1 county.
“I will continue to work with Senate leadership to obtain a variance or waiver in the event that we have an industrial prospect that is looking to bring jobs to District 25 and our state,” he said.
Butler said the program has been utilized three times in Richmond County, with Enviva and Plastek being the two most recent recipients of JDIG grants.
Enviva, a wood pellet manufacturer, announced last September it will bring 80 jobs and a $107 million investment to Richmond County.
The biofuels company will open a plant on N.C. 177 North, one of three facilities planned for the Carolinas. Gov. Pat McCrory said wood pellet plants in Richmond and Sampson counties will create a combined 160 jobs and an investment of $214.2 million to North Carolina by 2017.
“This program is the only way North Carolina can compete against other states for larger projects such as automotive suppliers projects,” Butler said.
Mercedes-Benz announced plans in March to build a $500 million manufacturing plant in Charleston, South Carolina, and Swedish carmaker Volvo signed an agreement for a similar project in the Palmetto State in late May. Both companies bypassed the Tar Heel State.
“Even if Richmond County does not land some of these larger projects,” Butler added, “there are trickle-down suppliers that we could serve, and would have a huge impact on Richmond County.”
McInnis also joined municipal leaders from across the state Wednesday in support of a proposal that changes the allocation of sales taxes.
The tax plan is also included in House Bill 117.
“This bill represents the most important piece of legislation for rural North Carolina this session,” McInnis said in a statement. “The 50 percent per capita and 50 percent point of sale will level the playing field for the rural counties while keeping the urban counties strong. We look forward to the bill being passed in the House and signed into law by the governor.”
McCrory threatened last month to veto legislation that contained an earlier version of the local sales tax redistribution, in which most of the local sales tax proceeds would be distributed based on population. Current law distributes 75 percent of it based on where sales occurred, which generally favor urban centers and vacation destinations.
Senators passed a bill Tuesday that contained both expanded incentives sought by McCrory along with distributing the local sales taxes equally based on population and points of sale. McCrory hasn’t spoken publicly about the updated bill.
House Republicans are weighing whether to accept the measure or seek change in negotiations. The Senate GOP rally also included speeches of support from a handful of House members from both parties urging their chamber’s colleagues to agree with the Senate. A strong House vote also could persuade McCrory to sign the bill into law, said Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond.
“We cannot have a great state when you leave rural North Carolina behind,” Goodman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.