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Grant gaffe

JACKSON – Gary Brown, Northampton County’s Economic Development Director, wanted to provide some clarity. That’s why he chose to speak about grants before the Board of Commissioners here Monday during their regular session.

He appeared in response to comments NC Senator Erica Smith made about grant funding when she spoke to the Board at their previous meeting. In her remarks, the senator noted the lack of funding from Job Development Investment Grants (JDIG) and One NC grants coming to Northampton County.

“Generally, the conversation which ensued covered a broad topic in a short period, and was at times a bit entangled,” Brown explained. “Some were apparently left with the impression that there’s a whole bunch of money out there in the JDIG and One NC programs, and that all we (Northampton County) have to do is apply for it, and that once awarded, the county could spend those grant moneys on whatever.”

“That impression is entirely mistaken,” Brown continued.

During his presentation, Brown explained the qualifications necessary to receive the particular economic development grants in question, and he also included mention of other grants the county has received in the past few years.

These awarded grants include Community Development Block Grants, Industrial Development Fund Utility Accounts, Building Reuse grants, and more to different local businesses.

“After carefully reviewing her comments, I believe Senator Smith’s central theme was that the award of JDIG and One NC grants is driven by qualifying projects, and that the majority of projects that receive [these] grant awards are ultimately located in, or in close proximity to, an urban area,” said Brown, noting that Smith stated her intent was to sponsor legislation that will promote more JDIG and One NC qualifying projects in rural North Carolina.

According to the Economic Development Director, there are multiple qualifications that must be met to apply for the JDIG grants. First and foremost is that North Carolina must be in competition with other states for the project in question. The project must create at least 125 new full-time jobs with wages at 105 percent of the county’s average private sector wage standard.

The JDIG grant money, Brown noted, goes directly to the company for whatever purpose the company chooses.

The One NC Fund is a performance-based incentive program, which also has a requirement to be competitive with other states. Companies must create at least 20 new full-time jobs meeting the county’s average wage standard, and local governments must agree to a 3-to-1 match.

Like JDIG, the One NC grants go directly to the company, but can only be used for specific things such as equipment purchase and building construction.

Concluding his prepared remarks, Brown said, “rural communities such as Northampton County often don’t have the resources to compete head-to-head with urban centers. If we want to be competitive, we’re obliged to do so strategically, deploying scarce resources to the most strategic effect.”

After his presentation, the floor was opened for questions and comments from the commissioners.

Commissioner Charles Tyner first asked for clarification about the kinds of grants Brown had listed in his presentation. He answered those were economic development grants, not ones the county had received which pertained to water and sewer or recreation.

Citing information on neighboring counties, Tyner urged Northampton County to pursue as many grants as possible, no matter how big or small.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner chimed in to agree.

“When you have a company that comes in, the company benefits by the initial grant,” Faulkner said before going on to explain how the county indirectly benefits in various ways from those companies.

In her comments, she acknowledged the need to be innovative and not only to think outside the box, but to “throw the box away.”

“All of this was good about a grant session,” Faulkner said on the presentation, “but we need to see grants being written. We need to see grants being received. We won’t get them if we don’t get to the table.”

Brown said he agreed.

Chairman Robert Carter thanked the director for his information, adding he hoped the Board would continue looking into more grant opportunities moving forward.