The Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 12 to offer economic incentives to an unnamed company rumored to be Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Ahead of the vote, Andrew T. Tate, president of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, briefed commissioners on the measure, explaining that the company wanted to remain anonymous due to “competitive pressures.”
The project, as proposed, would involve the company making a taxable capital investment of at least $45 million in real estate improvements and at least $70 million on business equipment, he explained. And the business plans to create at least 125 new jobs with an average annual salary higher than Henderson County’s average manufacturing salaries for full-time work, he said. (The average annual manufacturing wage for 2010 in Henderson County was $48,600, according to the Employment Security Commission).
In exchange for meeting that criteria, the county will now offer the employer up to $3.75 million in economic incentives over the course of seven years. The idea, said Tate, was to help lure the company to the area by helping it be able to afford costs associated with land acquisition, site development, water, sewage and construction.
But Tommy Thompson, board chair, cautioned that the resolution they passed didn’t guarantee anything, noting that it simply allowed county staff to enter in to more negotiations with the company.
“It’s all a matter of trying to attempt to negotiate contracts. This is not saying, ‘This is a done deal,’” he said. “It gives our staff the opportunity to negotiate on these matters and try to get it to work.”
Before the vote, the public was given a chance to weigh in.
In previous months, Asheville brewers had been adamantly opposed to the idea of local governments offering economic incentives to national breweries to entice them move to the area. But no local brewers showed up to speak at the meeting. Likewise, no one from the business in question spoke on its behalf.
Instead, a pair of leaders from local tea party groups stepped up to the lectern to criticize the measure, with Jane Bilello of the Asheville Tea Party asking the commissioners why they’re “pushing some companies over others.”
She added: “This smells and stinks of crony capitalism. … Why are you not lowering taxes for all businesses to attract industry and utilizing free market principles that have worked to make the country great?”
Similarly, Glen Englram, of the Blue Ridge Tea Party Patriots, asked the commissioners a number of pointed questions, seeking clarification on what company the county was negotiating with.
“Being transparent and open … would be extremely helpful and beneficial,” he said.
In response, no one on the board elected to reveal the company’s name, but some defended the move as a necessary step to bring jobs to the area in a very competitive business environment.
“These companies don’t have to come here. They’re big international firms. They’re going to do their investments where they want to,” said Commissioner Michael Edney. “So we’re out there competing with other states, other counties. If you want to look at it as a game, you can. But this board has historically, and currently, done what we can to bring good paying jobs to our community.”
Thompson echoed that sentiment, saying, “We’re all about economic development. We’re all about bringing good paying jobs to our community.”
Meanwhile, county attorney Charles Burrell sought to assure critics that “these incentives are based on a taxable payback over a period of years.”
“It’s more of a rebate on their brand new investment rather than paying them money,” he continued. “The companies must meet targets. If they don’t meet those goals, they don’t get the money.”
In addition, commissioner Larry Young noted that the step taken by the commissioners was part of a larger effort to lure the company to the area involving the Golden Leaf Foundation of North Carolina, state grant funds and the town of Mills River.
“So we’re just stepping up to do our job to bring more jobs to Henderson County,” he said.
Ralph Freeman, the only member of the public to speak out in favor of the measure, thanked the commissioners.
“I can see that longterm, this will make a great impact to the county,” he said. “I think this investment, this move will come back to all of us. … This might be a big break for us, to be able to get these jobs in this county.”
The commissioners also unanimously voted to pass resolutions to enter in to negotiations with two much smaller, local companies seeking incentives.
Below are dispatches from the meeting via Twitter from Xpress reporter @JakeFrankel using hashtag #avlbeer:
• Lots of media here at Hendo commish meeting, hoping for #avlbeer economic incentive announcement? (Sierra Nevada??)
• Lots of media here at Hendo commish meeting, hoping for #avlbeer economic incentive announcement? (Sierra Nevada??) John Boyle and AVL Beer Guy (Tony Kiss in the house) http://t.co/FkCUGb61 http://t.co/U4If1nCG
• Staff briefing commish now on economic incentive proposal for “company that wishes to remain anonymous.” Deal calls for offering said company $3.75 million in economic incentives to build facility and create over 100 jobs
• Jane Billelo (sp?), head of local Tea Party, speaks during public comment, says she opposes tax incentives. Asks: Why not lower taxes for all businesses, that would be more fair. #avlbeer
• Resident Ralph Freeman disagrees, telling the commish “this might be a big break for us.”
• Commish Larry Young says this deal also involves state, Golden Leaf foundation, Mills River, other partners.
• No representatives from business here to speak on the measure.
• Henderson Commish unanimously votes to offer economic incentives to a business rumored to be Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
• But vice chair Thommy Thompson cautions: “this is not a done deal.” Thompson: Now staff has power to enter in to negotiations with said company. But the deal could fall apart. This company has the potential to be one of the largest employers in the county.
• Commissioners now going in to closed session to further discuss issues related to economic incentives and sheriff.
• Thompson insists there’s no reason for media, others to wait till their done, says they’ll have no further statements on issues.
• Meanwhile, Andrew Tate, prez of Henderson EDC, says the company is considering one specific site in the county. But Tate won’t say what company it is or where the site is…
For more information about the incentives package, see Brews News columnist Anne Fitten Glenn’s article, “Beer Region, USA?” here.
Originally published 2011-12-12 05:13:48 PM