Wilkesboro was one of two finalists for a project with an investment of several hundred million dollars and hundreds of new jobs before the company planning this chose the other site, which is in another state, less than a month ago.
The five-month economic development effort, called Project Flow locally, involved the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. (EDC), Economic Development Partnership of N.C. (EDPNC) and governments of Wilkesboro and Wilkes County.
A couple of government officials here said in interviews last week that they had been optimistic about the Wilkesboro site being chosen because Wilkes County was such a good fit for the company’s plans.
The Wilkesboro and Wilkes County governing bodies scheduled public hearings in mid-May, early July, early August and early September to consider incentives for the company based on what it planned to invest and jobs it planned to create.
When the first three hearings scheduled by the two local governing bodies were postponed, local officials said the company needed more time.
At the Sept. 7 meeting of the Wilkes County commissioners, Chairman Eddie Settle simply said the hearing was canceled.
As part of the effort, elected and other Wilkesboro and county government and Wilkes EDC officials agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements with the EDC and EDPNC. Local officials said this legally bound them to not publicly reveal the company’s name.
Government officials in Wilkes had never before signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of an economic development effort. Interviews with Wilkesboro and county officials last week indicated uncertainty and differing views on how long the agreement is binding.
Wilkes EDC President LeeAnn Nixon, who represented the Wilkesboro and county governments in dealings with the company, said non-disclosure agreements have become standard in economic development.
“We were able to get in the game by signing the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and respecting (the company’s) need for privacy up until the public hearing process.”
Nixon said the name of the company, its plans and details of economic incentives from Wilkesboro and the county would have been disclosed in the public hearings if the company had agreed to move forward with that process here.
After the public hearings, the Wilkesboro and county governing bodies would have voted on whether to officially offer the incentives.
“The town and county had not officially made an offer. The EDC had only outlined with the company, following the local approved guidelines/point system for industrial incentives, what the company might be approved for as incentives and a potential amount,” said Nixon.
“The EDC did express to the company that the local governments welcomed their project and taking the next formal steps.”
Nixon said the company’s officials “decided after looking at the overall project numbers that their best decision was to go elsewhere.” The company considered sites in multiple states and in multiple sites in North Carolina.
She said it was a positive experience overall and should leave Wilkes in a better position for future economic development efforts. “I’m proud of the way our local governments came together to work on this.”
Nixon added, “They (officials with the company) spoke highly of us here and what we had to offer…. In a situation like this, it often comes down to internal decisions. We were very competitive with our incentives and the state was also.”
Nixon also said she didn’t believe the amount of workforce available in Wilkes a significant factor. “Workforce is a challenge for everybody right now and I don’t think it’s very different in Wilkes than elsewhere in rural counties.”
Comments of some local officials in interviews indicated that the site chosen could draw workers from North Carolina because of its location in a neighboring state.
The Wilkes County commissioners recently considered but decided against purchasing a certain tract of undeveloped land in Wilkesboro for economic development. County officials said this property wasn’t involved in Project Flow.