County, city and state officials point to possible big jobs announcement

Signs from county, city and state officials are pointing towards a possible big jobs announcement soon. However, many questions remain, including the details of Buncombe County’s plan to purchase the former Volvo plant at 2169 Hendersonville Road.

On June 6, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Governor Bev Perdue flew to Asheville to meet with the CEO of a large company about a possible move to the mountains. Then, on June 16, the AC-T reported that “Buncombe County is preparing to buy at the former Volvo Construction Equipment plant for $7 million in hopes of luring another large employer to the property.” It also reported that “During a closed session June 7, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners discussed possible economic incentives for a company that ‘would bring up to 400 jobs and make a $125 million investment’ in the area.”

A few days later, on June 22, Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith reported via Twitter:

[Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair David] Gantt and [Asheville City Manager Gary] Jackson both hinting abt big jobs announcement within the next 10 days #mylipsaresealed

And now, Buncombe County Commissioner K. Ray Bailey, who also chairs the Economic Development Coalition, reveals to Xpress that all those events “appear to be related.”

He says he can’t confirm any details due to a “confidentiality agreement.” However, he reports that “We’re talking to a couple of different folks about that particular [Volvo] site. And we continue to work with them on all the legal stuff and all that sort of business. … All of us – the city, county and state – are working to find someone to occupy that space.”

“But nothing is final on having someone occupy that right now,” he continues. Still, commissioners plan to make a decision on the purchase of the former Volvo plant as soon as June 28.

If none of the current arrangements currently under discussion pan out, however, the county could incur expenses such as interest on the loan used to buy the property. But Bailey maintains that any expenses would be worth the benefit of preserving the site for manufacturing use and the jobs that would create rather than allowing it to be developed for condos or retail space.

“We are moving forward with the purchase because we want to preserve manufacturing in Buncombe County. That’s number one,” he explains.

During a public comment session at the commissioners’ June 21 meeting, a pair of residents weighed in on the issue, including Fairview resident (and former Republican commissioner candidate) Mike Fryar, who said he supported the purchase if it results in 400 jobs. But if not, he asserted that the county would be in “trouble.” He explained that in this tough economy, he thinks the county needs to cut costs, telling the commissioners: “Your job is to say enough is enough.”

Later, he speculated that the county might be buying the plant in order to be able to offer tax breaks on its use to a potential manufacturer, possibly just charging them enough money in a lease agreement to cover the county’s loan for the purchase of the property.

Meanwhile, West Asheville resident Hope Garrett urged commissioners to “explain what economic incentives you would offer to a company” to use the site before moving to buy the property.

“I think the public should know more before you gamble with $7 million of their money,” she asserted.

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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