State House approves incentive package

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

RALEIGH – One hurdle was cleared here Tuesday for economic growth in Northampton County.

In a overwhelming majority (100-12), the North Carolina House of Representatives gave approval to a tax credit/financial assistance package aimed at enticing a private company to construct an Advanced Vehicle Research Center on a site located just off I-95 near Garysburg.

The proposed new business may bring up to 350 new jobs to the county over a 10-year period.

While he was pleased with the outcome in the House of Representatives, Northampton County Economic Development Director Gary Brown said that he isn’t quite ready to celebrate.

&uot;This incentive package now moves to the North Carolina State Senate,&uot; said Brown, speaking by phone from Raleigh yesterday (Wednesday) morning. &uot;We’re hoping the package can be resolved by that chamber by week’s end.&uot;

As for the vote in the House chamber, Brown said he was grateful for the support of local District 5 Representative Howard Hunter Jr. of Ahoskie.

&uot;If anyone hit a grand slam on this project, it was Representative Hunter,&uot; stressed Brown. &uot;During Monday’s debate of the project on the House floor, Rep. Hunter really set the tone for what later proved to be the strong support we received in the House passage of this legislation.&uot;

This special legislation is unique in nature because it not only seeks tax credit and financial assistance from the state, the project is also aiming at landing the same incentives from third party interests as well as from investors.

&uot;This project is not entirely frontloaded by the state,&uot; noted Brown. &uot;It’s a pretty complex piece of work, one from where the funds could accumulate to as much as $10 million.&uot;

Brown is hopeful that another Ahoskie legislator, 4th District State Senator Robert Holloman, will aid the project as the incentive proposal makes its way onto the floor of that chamber of government.

&uot;Senator Holloman is the primary sponsor of this project over in his chamber,&uot; stated Brown. &uot;He is certainly well-positioned to assist us in gaining support.&uot;

The proposed facility is as unique as the drive behind gaining the incentive package. 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.

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 Rep. 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.