Cards accepted

GOOD BET: Plasticard is well on the way toward meeting the county’s two economic-incentive conditions: investing $4.4 million in the plant and hiring 42 new local workers at an average annual wage of $26,000 at the Sweeten Creek Industrial Park, said Quality Manager Jeff Imes. photo by Max Cooper

The Buncombe County commissioners approved $84,000 in economic incentives for Plasticard-Locktech International on Oct. 15, confirming a deal that’s been in the works since last spring.

Since then, Plasticard has pumped millions into capital improvements at its plant in the Sweeten Creek Industrial Park, noted Quality Manager Jeff Imes. The company, he said, is well on the way toward meeting the county’s two conditions: investing $4.4 million in the plant and hiring 42 new local workers at an average annual wage of $26,000.

Over the next 10 years, the company's new investment and jobs will generate more than $313,000 in tax revenue for the county, the Tax Department estimates.

Plasticard, hailed by the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County as "a genuine success story," was founded in 1988 by W.C. Noonan. Hatched in the basement of his Arden home, the company has grown into a global operation supplying keycards to major hotel chains. Plasticard’s local plant currently employs about 250 full-time workers, noted Imes. "On behalf of PLI, I'd like to thank you for all the support you've shown us over the years," he told the commissioners.

Without the county incentives, the company "would not complete the project," states the resolution the commissioners unanimously approved.

Commissioner Mike Fryar, who’s previously questioned the wisdom of such deals, said, "We're making money overall, plus we're putting money into this county, so I'm for it.” Board Chair David Gantt emphasized, "Before we give a nickel, there's certain requirements that must be verified."

During a public hearing on the matter, Candler resident Jerry Rice questioned whether the average pay for new employees leaves some earning so little money that they must still rely on government assistance. "I'm not interested in what the top people in the company make,” Rice explained. “I'm interested in the grunts. Are they making a living wage?"

Planning Director Jon Creighton said the new jobs satisfy local living-wage criteria.

Government shutdown hits home

Assistant County Manager Mandy Stone updated the commissioners on how the federal government shutdown was affecting the county.

"The shutdown doesn't stop mandates, but it stops resources from flowing to support them," she explained. Federal funds, noted Stone, pay for 70 percent of the social services provided by the county. If the federal government didn't resume operations soon, the county could have been on the hook for more than $500,000 in monthly child-care subsidies for low-income, working parents, for example.

In addition, nearly 60,000 county residents rely on food stamps to eat, and that money would have been used up Nov. 1 unless Congress took action. The program, noted Stone, pumps $60 million a year into the local economy.

"All of these cuts result in increased risks to people [who are] the most vulnerable," Stone emphasized. "This is our safety net."

"We need to be in the streets about this," asserted Vice Chair Holly Jones. "These are people without a voice and without any hope."

"It is incredible that we are even reduced to having this conversation," said Gantt. "We're going to take care of people the best we can, but there are limits to what we can do if it goes on long-term. I hope the people in Washington know what they are doing to people."

The 16-day shutdown ended the next day, after Congress passed a law restoring funding. Rep. Patrick McHenry, whose 10th District includes much of Asheville, supported the measure. But fellow Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, whose 11th District includes parts of Buncombe County, dissented due to disagreement with Affordable Care Act funding.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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