News of additional fraud and embezzlement charges against former Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene broke during the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting on June 5, stealing the thunder from several decisions made during the session.
GE Aviation won $685,000 in economic development incentives from the county. The funding is contingent on the company’s fulfilling its pledge, first announced on March 1, to invest $104 million in its local operations and create 131 jobs.
Commissioners approved the incentives, which are part of a joint economic development effort with the city of Asheville and the state, on a 6-1 vote, with Ellen Frost opposed.
“The reason they’re continuing to invest in a site like ours is that we have a community that continues to support this economic growth, supports manufacturing, and we have the support of local government officials that are behind what our business is trying to do,” Plant Manager Michael Meguiar told commissioners.
The 131 additional jobs will add to the company’s current tally of 424 workers. The new positions will pay an average wage of $49,000 per year, with 26 of the jobs paying an average annual salary of $92,000 and 105 jobs paying $38,356, excluding benefits.
County officials predict the investment will generate $2.8 million in property tax revenue over 10 years. An analysis by the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition indicates the investment’s ripple effects will indirectly support 82 jobs with GE’s local suppliers, as well as 68 jobs created by increased local household spending associated with the plant’s expansion.
Early childhood education initiatives
As part of its push to improve outcomes for kids by focusing on their first 2,000 days of life, Buncombe County will invest in two new early childhood education initiatives.
With the help of funding from the county, the YWCA will increase the number of kids it serves through its early learning program from 80 to 122. The money will also support a new infant classroom and two pre-K classrooms. High-need families will receive priority for the spaces. The county is providing $115,000 in FY 2018 for this project and $79,000 in FY 2019.
Buncombe County also awarded $121,000 to Warren Wilson College to spearhead a collaborative effort to expand the number of students pursuing a career in early childhood education. Partners in the project include the Verner Center for Early Learning, A-B Tech, Buncombe County Schools and others.
According to a press release from Warren Wilson College, only 26 percent of Buncombe kids receive early childhood education because of a shortage of early childhood centers and educators in the county.
“The reality right now is that too many kids in Buncombe County are struggling,” Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said. “One quarter of the kids in our community live in poverty and others struggle due to factors like a lack of access to healthy food or a lack of stable housing.”
Beach-Ferrara said the board believes expanding access to early childhood education can help mitigate some of these problems.
“It works in the short-term to help kids succeed in school and it sets in motion a lifetime of benefits from improved health to increased access to post-secondary education to increased earnings,” she said.
In other business
Commissioners conducted a public hearing on the fiscal year 2019 budget. The board will cast an official vote on the budget during its meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 19, in the third-floor conference room at 200 College St. in downtown Asheville.