Wray battles for funds

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005

RALEIGH – Michael Wray isn’t superstitious, but it’s a safe bet he will not walk under any ladders between now and later in the week.

Wray – a Gaston native serving his first year in the North Carolina House of Representatives – is keeping is fingers crossed that a pair of key pieces of legislation, both promising to have a big economic impact on the local area, will become part of the House version of the 2005-07 state budget.

Along with Rep. Lucy Allen of Louisburg, Wray has battled for $7.5 million in state funding for the Advanced Vehicle Research Center, a sprawling complex with its sights set on a Northampton County location, along with $750,000 in tourism promotion, funding that will be used for an entertainment complex in Roanoke Rapids.

&uot;The Senate has no money for either of these projects and neither does Governor Easley’s version of the budget, but the House has money set aside for both,&uot; Wray said on Monday during his trip back to Raleigh.

He continued, &uot;Rep. Allen and myself are members of the Appropriations/Natural and Economic Resources Subcommittee. We are pleased to report the projects in Northampton County and Roanoke Rapids have cleared the first hurdle in the budget process by being approved by the Subcommittee and we’re hopeful they will be funded in the final House budget bill.&uot;

According to Wray, all subcommittees will first present their requests to the full Appropriations Committee for an &uot;up-or-down&uot; (yes or no) vote.

&uot;If we make it past Appropriations, the request will be included as part of the House version of the budget from where another up-or-down vote will be taken,&uot; Wray said.

He added that it’s hopeful the House version of the budget will be finished and forwarded to the Senate by the end of this week.

The proposed $7.5 million for the Advanced Vehicle Research Center are funds that will be used by the Northeast Regional Economic Development Partnership for the construction and operation of the center.

The project received $200,000 in initial funding from the General Assembly in 2004.

If constructed, the Research Center will be the third largest of its kind in the world. With the possibility of bringing up to 350 new jobs to the county over a five-year period, the proposed Research Center is designed to perform comprehensive tests on vehicles and automotive-related products, while conducting research on utilizing non-fossil fuel technology.

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

It will be located on a 625-acre site in Northampton County and has the capability of providing an estimated 6,000 other jobs statewide in ancillary industries.

The $750,000 Wray’s and Allen’s subcommittee approved is earmarked for promotion of a family entertainment district that is now in the final planning stages on I-95 near Roanoke Rapids.

The entertainment complex – an amusement park along with dinner theatres, hotels and shopping outlets – is a $129 million investment in Halifax County. Plans call for an estimated 2,500 new jobs with an approximate annual payroll of nearly $53 million.

Wray said the deal was nearly finished to make the project a reality for the local area. He added the $750,000 would assist in a billboard campaign on I-95 and I-85 to draw attention to the entertainment complex.