Economic projects dot Bertie landscape

Published 9:59 am Monday, April 4, 2016

PERRYTOWN – With one of the items on the county’s economic development plate already fulfilled with the grand opening of the Family Dollar store in Aulander, Bertie County Economic Development Director Steve Biggs could cross that project off his ‘to-do’ list.

Meanwhile, at the monthly meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners here on March 21, Biggs gave an update on several projects his office is working on.

He mentioned that a company called Project Precision may be interested in the shell facility that currently sits without an occupant at the Bertie Correctional Institution (BCI) Windsor prison, and is apparently open to the idea of sharing the facility with another interested business.

“It is a new company that the Mideast Commission came upon that was looking for expansion not only in their business, but also the human factor so that these people might have jobs once they are able to be dismissed from the prison facility,” Biggs announced.

The director said a trip is planned later in April to Alexander County to tour a similar facility near Taylorsville that manufactures pallets.

“A lot of what this company does they do in the western part of the state at that facility,” Biggs said. “So they want to see how it’s made up and how it operates. Instead of having one company, we hope to have two.”

Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson expressed concern over the timeline in getting an occupant at BCI and said the county should try to engage the legislative leadership to become involved.

“This is a great thing, and the money is sitting there waiting for us, but the time limit the state requires to be able to use the money is ridiculous,” Wesson said.

Commission Chairman John Trent said all the Commissioners had signed a letter sent to U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield hoping some business could be put into the 26-to-30,000 square-foot concrete facility so it wouldn’t sit idle at taxpayers’ expense.

Trent also said the area’s congressional delegation needs to put pressure on Archer-Daniels-Midland over the idle Golden Peanut facility in Aulander.

“Now that you’re out, either donate it to us so we can start marketing it,” Trent stated, “or make some calls so we can get someone else in there. Every one of our Commissioners has signed those letters that show what our agenda is.”

Biggs said there were still 15 people still employed at the facility, but that the entire (peanut) product was gone. He said the spoke to ADM about two potential occupants who might be willing to buy all the equipment and move in.

“They didn’t want to do anything until (the facility) was completely closed out,” Biggs noted. “We don’t want everybody to be gone and a company or companies that would come it then have to re-hire and re-train; and it takes that much longer to get things back up and running.”

Commissioner Stewart White inquired about the amount of inventory in storage. Biggs said all that’s known is that it was –quote – “an abundant amount of peanuts” – and that ADM was keeping mum about how it would be eliminated.

Biggs also announced that a new restaurant was slated to open in Colerain soon that would serve both breakfast and lunch.

“It’s going to be right in downtown Colerain,” he informed. “Renovating the building ups the tax base a little bit.”

Commissioner Tammy Lee said it was an expansion of a restaurant that had been located on the Chowan River, but has opted to relocate.

Biggs said two projects affecting Windsor were also much closer. First, results should be received soon regarding the hotel feasibility study in the Windsor area, and that there were various hotel owners anxiously awaiting the study results.

“We had a company in here the first week of March and I think they were very impressed with us,” Biggs pointed out. “The best breakfast he ever had he says he had in Windsor. We’re hoping the study they deliver will be on the positive side so we can get busy doing our best to land a hotel.”

Biggs said there have been hotel inquiries from places such as California and Atlanta and these groups are excited about helping the area land a hotel.

Biggs also mentioned that brochures marketing the county are available and he wanted feedback if there should be any changes.

Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore inquired about groundbreaking for a McDonald’s restaurant in Windsor. Biggs said he had been in contact with the developer regarding the site and hoped a dip in McDonald’s stock market price had delayed the start of building, but with the stock on the rebound, a ground breaking should begin on the restaurant shortly.

At the regional level, Biggs reported that he was currently assisting a company in securing a USDA cold storage grant for a 150,000 square foot facility in Eastern Carolina. The facility could be shared among various businesses and farmers. This project is still in preliminary stages.

“We have been in touch with a company out of Raleigh which is in the process of helping build the large cold-storage facility at the State Port in Wilmington,” Biggs said. “In conversation with some of those folks as recently as this afternoon we’re trying to get a visit there (the Port) to actually see how they have done this and how we can put together a business plan that will incorporate all the companies in our surrounding area that use cold-storage.”

Once completed, the Wilmington cold-storage facility will house primarily food waiting to be exported and mean the state’s producers of protein products, including pork and poultry, can ship from Wilmington rather than a port in another state.

When the Wilmington warehouse opens, it will mean 50 jobs and roughly 100,000 square feet of storage space — with future expansion and job growth forecast in coming years.

Their project, valued at $14.5-million, is being partly financed by Chinese investors as part of a federal program known as the Immigrant Investor Program, or “EB-5,” where foreign nationals receive a U.S. green card for investing their money.

“Whether it’s the fisherman in Wanchese (Dare County) or the peanut grower in Bertie, we’re going to work that because a lot of our people are sending their merchandise to Richmond or Suffolk and we’re right in the middle of Morehead City (a bulk shipping port) and the ports in Norfolk,” Biggs said.