The Beat: An inside job

Job jubilation: An exuberant Buncombe commissioners’ Chair David Gantt praises the county’s purchase of the Volvo plant, a key part in the deal for Linamar bringing 363 manufacturing jobs to Asheville. photo by Jonathan Welch

Buncombe County buys former Volvo plant. County sells Volvo plant to the Linamar Corp., a Canadian manufacturer, the following year. Asheville gives Linamar $2.2 million in incentives over four years. Buncombe kicks in $6.8 million in incentives. North Carolina pitches in $9 million. The hoped-for result? Almost 400 local jobs paying, on average, more than $39,000 a year.

State and local officials were jubilant when they announced the news June 30 at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner: Linamar will take over the old Volvo plant, purchased days earlier by Buncombe County for $7 million, and provide 363 jobs and $80 million in capital investment, with the possibility of more to come. The average job will pay $39,752 and will offer benefits.

“This company could have gone anywhere in the world. They chose Asheville,” Gov. Bev Perdue told the audience of local business owners. The combination of incentives, infrastructure and education was what secured the deal, she asserted.

“This project didn’t happen because there was a jobs fairy that flew over Asheville and sprinkled some dust down and said, ‘You all deserve this,’” Perdue declared. “It doesn’t work that way when 49 other states are competing for the same jobs.”

Linamar will hold job fairs Tuesday, July 5, from noon to 8 p.m. and Wednesday, July 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Haynes Building on A-B Tech’s Enka campus. Renovation is slated to begin in August, with production ramping up in November. The company aims to have full production going late in 2013.

The deal’s origins stretch back to late last year, when local officials, led by Buncombe Commissioner K. Ray Bailey (current chair of the Economic Development Coalition), began brokering an agreement with Linamar. Last December, the governor called Volvo to persuade them to lower the property’s selling price in order to facilitate the deal. City officials were also involved in the negotiations, with Mayor Terry Bellamy taking company executives on a tour of the old plant. Several weeks ago, Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz visited the area and met with the governor.

“This was a long journey for us; it took a long time to decide on this. But the support was incredible at all levels: We couldn’t say no,” said Nick Adams, the company’s vice president for global sales. “We’re not moving work here — we’re starting growth. Nobody’s losing their job somewhere else.”

Adams also praised the area’s community-college system, calling it one of the best the company has seen. Linamar, he said, will pursue apprenticeship and internship programs with A-B Tech.

Ironically, one of the Asheville plant’s first clients will be Volvo, the property’s former owner.

The city plans to pay its share of the incentives via tax rebates, while the county will pull its share from an economic-development fund. The state’s $9 million contribution will consist of a combination of grants and tax rebates. And given Linamar’s impressive growth record, additional jobs are a strong possibility board of commissioners Chair David Gantt told Xpress.

City and county officials alike promised that the incentives depend upon Linamar meeting investment and payroll benchmarks.

Company executives, meanwhile, said the county’s role in securing the building was vital, enabling them to proceed with the renovation while gathering additional capital for the purchase. The deal calls for Linamar to buy the building from the county early next year for the same price.

“They wouldn’t have located here if we didn’t agree to purchase the property,” Gantt explained. He also projected that for every job Linamar brings to the area, it will create three more indirectly — eventually resulting in a $125 million increase in the tax base.

“We didn’t get the memo that said manufacturing is dead in the United States!” crowed Gantt, praising his colleagues’ “political guts” in agreeing to buy the property. He and other officials particularly credited Bailey’s work in pulling together the deal. “Everything that’s happening here has his fingerprints all over it,” Gantt proclaimed.

Bellamy, sporting a Linamar ball cap for her speech, pledged the company “the full support of the city, the strength of our world-class work force, and the innovative and independent spirit of our residents.”

The county commissioners will discuss the deal in more detail at their July 26 meeting. Asheville City Council will vote on the city’s portion of the incentive package at an upcoming meeting.

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One thought on “The Beat: An inside job

  1. J

    I’m glad that city council is just handing out tax rebates to the Linamar corporation and not tax breaks. After years of listening to Gordon et al., I know that tax breaks for corporations are a bad thing. They would look silly if they were found using taxpayer money to subsidize a corporation, especially one that promotes automobile usage which would contravene their desire to move people to public transit…oh wait…that’s exactly what Gordon and co. are doing.

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