It’s the economy, stupid

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Dec. 7 meeting

  • Stimulus loan may fund Ingles improvements
  • Revamped EDC aims to ramp up local economy

At their final meeting before breaking for the holidays, the Buncombe County commissioners took action on several fronts with an eye toward boosting the local economy.

Topping the Dec. 7 agenda was approving a $99.74 million federal stimulus loan to Ingles Markets Inc. If the state signs off on the complex deal, the locally based grocery chain would use the money to build an 830,000 square foot warehouse and distribution center at its Black Mountain headquarters and an 80,000 to 100,000 square foot grocery store at 153 Smokey Park Highway in Asheville. Chief Financial Officer Ronald Freeman estimated that the completed projects would create at least 190 new full-time jobs, plus an unspecified number of temporary construction jobs.

"We're a strong believer in trading locally, given that we have 39 stores and 3,200 employees in Buncombe County, so we'd like to add to that," he said.

The commissioners hailed the prospect of new jobs, emphasizing that the money in question wouldn’t be coming out of state or county coffers but from low-interest federal Recovery Zone Facility Bonds.

"This stimulus money is a federal decision; it's not county or state money. But it's about jobs. To get this kind of loan, you have to show … that you are stimulating our economy under federal guidelines, which is not an easy thing to do," board Chair David Gantt explained. "We need the jobs. … We all have to work together on jobs. We understand; we get it."

Commissioner Holly Jones also noted the positive impact the expansions will have on the local tax base. "That's a good little piece of news for us," she said, joining her colleagues in supporting the measure.

Although the loan still needs final approval by the state, Freeman seemed to think the projects were on track.

"We hope to have [the distribution] facility up and running by the end of 2012," he reported.

Ingles operates 202 stores throughout the Southeast, and its fourth-quarter profits jumped up 63 percent, according to the company’s Nov. 30 financial report.

Economic Development Coalition to tackle tough issues

Employment remained front and center as the commissioners unanimously agreed to revamp the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville-Buncombe County, a joint effort with the city of Asheville, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and other groups. The retooled group is charged with "stimulating private-sector investment, economic growth and job creation" and determining the "10 most important challenges to economic growth" in the area.

"Jobs will really be the focal point," said Commissioner K. Ray Bailey, who will continue to chair the coalition. The 16 remaining members will be appointed by a wide variety of local groups, including the Board of Commissioners, the Asheville City Council, the Chamber, the Asheville Regional Airport Authority and the Manufacturers Executive Association.

Leicester parcel rezoned

In a smaller skirmish on Buncombe's tough economic battlefield, the commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning request for a 1.39 acre parcel at 872 New Leicester Highway. Landowner David Day said he’d requested the change from residential to commercial zoning because he has a "potential contract with a retailer."

The only resident to speak during the public hearing, Day explained that most of the surrounding land is already zoned commercial. "I don't think anyone would want to buy a house on that property," he observed.

Both the county Planning Board and Planning staff had recommended approving the request.

Other business

Bill Stanley was unanimously re-elected by his fellow commissioners to a third one-year term as the board’s vice chair. Although the position is largely symbolic, Stanley will wield the gavel when Gantt is absent.

"Thank you for substituting and doing a great job for us as vice chair," said Gantt as he cast his vote.

Later in the meeting, the commissioners also designated Stanley to represent them at the N.C. Association of County Commissioners’ upcoming Legislative Goals Conference in Durham.

In addition, the commissioners unanimously appointed Joe Brumit to the A-B Tech board of trustees and Linda Brown to the Board of Trustees for Abandoned Cemeteries.

Citing ongoing vacancies on the Asheville Transit Commission as well as the Civic Center and Historic Resources commissions, Gantt urged the public to get involved.

"These are important groups,” he asserted, adding, “Each one of them has an interesting and eventful future next year.”

To learn more about serving on public boards and commissions, or to apply for a specific position, contact Clerk to the Board Kathy Hughes at 828-250-4105 or at

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


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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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