Research Center eyes Northampton

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

JACKSON – The economic picture is growing brighter in Northampton County.

Contingent upon legislation currently under consideration in the North Carolina House of Representatives and the State Senate, a site located off I-95 near Garysburg may soon become the home of an Advanced Vehicle Research Center. The proposed new business may bring up to 350 new jobs to the county over a 10-year period.

&uot;This project is not yet complete, but we remain extremely optimistic as we continue in our efforts to pull the various components of this project together,&uot; said Gary Brown, Northampton County’s Director of Economic Development.

He continued, &uot;We feel we have broad support within the General Assembly as well as from within the Department of Commerce.&uot;

Brown confirmed that the Northampton County Board of Commissioners have been kept up-to-date on this ongoing process. He said the Commissioners have been &uot;key players in this process.&uot;

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Representative Howard Hunter Jr. (D-Hertford) said he is co-sponsoring legislation that would provide tax incentives for the center to locate in Northampton County. Those incentives would result in a minimum of $750,000 in savings to the firm that opens the Research Center.

&uot;We are pushing hard for this deal, one that we would like to wrap up sometimes next week,&uot; said Hunter from his Raleigh office. &uot;If it happens, it would bring hundreds of jobs and millions in tax base for Northampton County as well as the Roanoke-Chowan and Roanoke Valley areas.&uot;

Brown praised the work of Hunter and State Senator Robert Holloman (D-Hertford), calling them &uot;champions for the people of our area of the state.&uot;

The proposed facility is very unique. It’s designed as a comprehensive testing facility for vehicles and automotive-related products, including research on utilizing non-fossil fuel technology as the nation moves towards reaching a goal of energy independence.

At the Center, automotive components such as chassis, drive trains, powerplants, generators, body components, electronic systems, guidance appliances and safety equipment will undergo rigorous testing procedures.

The proposed Research Center will feature a 2.5-mile &uot;smart highway&uot; test track (with multiple surface types), dynamometer and wind tunnel facilities as well as laboratory, machining, bench-testing and emissions monitoring facilities.

The Center will be located on a 625-acre site.

What makes the Center even more attractive is that it has the capability of providing an estimated 6,000 other jobs statewide in ancillary industries. Officials touting the Center are hopeful that it will act as a magnet, capturing the attention and the imagination of automotive industry related companies who, judging on past history, have bypassed North Carolina and located their businesses in other states.

&uot;We have a skilled labor force, strong in work ethic, ready to go to work,&uot; noted Hunter. &uot;This is a win-win situation for everyone involved in this process, one that could open so many other doors in our state down the line. This is more, much more, that 300-plus jobs in Northampton County.&uot;

Operational costs of the Research Center will come from user fees (auto manufacturers), research contracts with public and private sector entities and federal grants from the Department of Energy and Department of Transportation.

According to a memo to Howard from the Northeast Partnership, a tremendous amount of federal grant funds are available and programmed over the next six years related to alternative fuel research and development.

The proposed Research Center is similar in concept to one constructed in the United Kingdom for the British auto industry as well as an American facility located at Ohio State University.