Pictured here: Jeff Imes, quality manager at Plasticard. Photo by Max Cooper.
At their Oct. 15 meeting, Buncombe Commissioners approved $84,000 in economic incentives for Plasticard-Lockteck International. The deal’s been in the works since last spring, when county officials promised the incentive grants to the company if it expanded operations at its Arden headquarters.
Since then, Plasticard has pumped millions into capital improvements at its plant in Sweeten Creek Industrial Park, said Jeff Imes, quality manager. The company’s well on the way towards investing the $4.4 million the county requires before receiving the grants, he reported. The county’s other condition is that Plasticard hire 42 new local workers, paying an average wage of $26,000 per year. The company has almost met that obligation as well, according Imes.
The Buncombe County Tax Department estimates that the company’s new investment and jobs will generate over $313,000 in tax revenue for the county over the next 10 years. “It’s very exciting, the fact that it’s a local business here that continues to expand,” said Buncombe County Planning Director Jon Ceighton.
Described by the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County as “a genuine success story,” Plasticard was founded in 1988 by W.C. Noonan out of the basement of his Arden home. It’s grown over the years into a global company, supplying keycards to hotel chains such as Hilton and Marriott across the globe. Plasticard currently employs roughly 250 full-time workers at its Arden plant, according to Imes. “On behalf of PLI, I’d like to thank you for all the support you’ve shown us over the years,” Imes told the commissioners.
If the county “did not promise such economic development incentives,” the company “would not complete the project,” according to the Oct. 15 resolution the commissioners unanimously passed.
Commissioner Mike Fryar, who has previously questioned the wisdom of such economic incentive deals, praised the arrangement. “We’re making money overall, plus we’re putting money into this county, so I’m for it,” he said. Board Chair David Gantt noted: “Before we give a nickel, there’s certain requirements that must be verified.”
Candler resident Jerry Rice was the only attendee to speak during a public hearing on the matter. He noted that he has a family member who works at the plant who is “treated well.” However, he questioned if the average pay for new workers leaves some making so little in wages they must still rely on government help for support. “I’m not interested in what the top people in the company make, I’m interested in the grunts,” he noted. “Are they making a living wage?”
Creighton responded that the new jobs meet local living wage standards, and that the company offers health insurance benefits to new hires. “They do meet our standards,” he said.
Federal government shutdown hits home
In addition, Assistant County Manager Mandy Stone updated commissioners on how the county is being effected by the ongoing shutdown of the federal government.
“The shutdown doesn’t stop mandates, but it stops resources from flowing to support them,” she noted. Stone reported that 70 percent of the social services provided by the county are financed by federal funds. For example, she said that if the federal government doesn’t begin operating again soon, the county could be on the hook for covering over $500,000 in monthly childcare subsidies to help low-income working parents.
She also reported that federal money for local foodstamps is scheduled to dry up Nov. 1 unless congress acts. Almost 60,000 residents of Buncombe County rely on them to eat, Stone said. They also pump $60 million into the economy a year, she reported.
Even if the federal government restores funding tomorrow, Stone said she worries the county would likely lose about $250,000 in lost reimbursements due to the shutdown.
“All of these cuts result in increased risks to people. … the most vulnerable,” Stone said. “This is our safety net. … There’s a fiscal impact to our local economy.”
“We need to be in the streets about this,” Vice Chair Holly Jones asserted. “These are people without a voice and without any hope. We need to organize around this.”
Commissioners proceeded to ask staff to draft a letter to federal authorities letting them know of the hardships the shutdown is causing the county.
“It is incredible that we are even reduced to having this conversation,” said Board Chair David 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 longterm. I hope the people in Washington know what they are doing to people.”
Meanwhile, commissioners also unanimously approved a rezoning request to allow manufactured homes to be located on a small tract of land in Candler at 21 Antique Lane. Several neighbors spoke out against the change. However, both planning staff and the volunteer planning board recommended approving the request, determining that it was line with the surrounding area.