Columbus Jobs Foundation Chairman Rick Edwards told more than 100 people Monday night that efforts to reactivate economic activity at the former Georgia Pacific site west of Whiteville might be about to come to fruition.
Edwards’ remarks came at an event at the Museum of Natural Sciences that was billed as a social/membership drive function. “The Georgia Pacific site, folks, is under contract,” Edwards said to applause. “They’re working through it, piece-by-piece. There are some tough contingencies, so keep your fingers crossed.”
Not surprisingly, he offered no other details because economic development matters always are kept under wraps until announcements are made after completion of deals, but did say that if the deal is done, it will mean 139 new jobs for the county.
Samantha Alsup, senior administrative specialist for the Columbus County Economic Development Commission (EDC), said that Monday’s meeting was a success, as seven new members joined the Jobs Foundation, which was formed in 2015 from what used to be called the Committee of 100.
The Columbus Jobs Foundation works with county government to create local incentive packages for new business and industry.
The group owns the 165-acre Southeast Regional Industrial Park near Whiteville which boasts water, sewer, gas, rail and high-speed Internet access. U.S. 74-76 and Southeastern Community College are adjacent to the park.
Edwards said that when asked by the EDC, the foundation can move swiftly to assist in job creation. “As private leaders, we use our financial, intellectual and political resources to help in recruiting industry,” he said. One tool is making low-interest loans to businesses from a revolving fund. “We can’t lend it fast enough. Our board is wanting to lend to business owners, large and small, to help them grow or expand their business. Money is just a phone call away,” Edwards said.
He ticked off a list of efforts currently underway.
The Tortimex building, a 48,000 sq. ft. facility in the Southeast Regional Park, is “under due dilligance as we speak,” Edwards said. “The new Tortimex CEO would have been here tonight, but his family has the flu bug. If we can get Tortimex done, we can start that operation back up in full production, and that means 25 jobs.”
Edwards also said, “We’ve got a long shot, a very long shot, for a manufacturing operation in Delco. They haven’t come to see us yet, but we’re hoping.”
He recognized chief operating officer Gina Gann of the new T-Rex Toy Company in Tabor City’s industrial park. “They’ve just come from the New York toy fair and they are getting ready to move more equipment into the Tabor City park. The CEO is still putting his management team together, and Gina told me she has a goal of having a job fair in the late spring.”
Edwards said the Jobs Foundation also is in the process of assisting the R.J. Corman Railroad Co. in doing a feasibility study to extend the Corman line to the port in Wilmington. He also introduced Corman vice president Bill Henderson, who flew into Whiteville from Kentucky specifically for Monday’s meeting. “We’re also going to be a part of trying to form a North Carolina-South Carolina tax-free zone from downtown Myrtle Beach to downtown Whiteville to downtown Chadbourn to downtown Fair Bluff to downtown Marion, S.C.,” Edwards said.
Edwards said the Jobs Foundation is reaching out to all ends of the county. “Let me talk a minute about Delco,” he said. “I love Delco. Delco, of course, is on our county line. Sooner or later – and it’s a matter of time –
a company is coming to Brunswick county and benefit both Brunswick and Columbus and something huge is going to happen. Please talk to your commissioners and ask them to put an industrial park in Delco. If we take a chance to advance, we’ll be ahead of the money in Columbus County and not behind like we have been the last 15 years.”
He said that earlier Monday Jobs Foundation board members had met with representatives of an information technology company who have expressed an interest in locating here. “That would be an exciting thing for our county,” Edwards said. “They came into town, sat down with us, and they are excited about the prospect of moving to Columbus County.”
He continued, “We’ve also been in contact in the last few months with a tech company. That may or may not happen.”
Edwards said although that in the past the Jobs Foundation has stressed the industrial park but “those days are gone. Now it’s all about the whole county.” While Southeast Regional Park is the only food-certified industrial park in the state, Tabor City, only 25 minutes from Myrtle Beach, Fair Bluff, Whiteville and Chadbourn could also be poised to become “boomtown.”
He revealed, “We have a lukewarm agriculture candidate that would hire 600 or 700 employees” considering locating in Columbus County.
Edwards acknowledged several governmental leaders in attendance including Rep. Ken Waddell and Sen. Jane Smith, who form Columbus County’s legislative delegation. Also in attendance were county commissioners Buddy Byrd, Edwin Russ, and Trent Burroughs, along with county manager Bill Clark and economic development director Gary Lanier and assistant director Samantha Alsup.
Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann attended, accompanied by council members Sarah Thompson, Robert Leder and Tom Blackmon, along with city manager Darren Currie. Edwards also recognized Columbus County native Bill Rabon, who serves in the Senate but does not represent Columbus County. “Sen. Rabon is here, and he’s co-chair of the DOT committee and he is 110 percent behind us.”
The Columbus Jobs Foundation has set a fundraising goal for the year of $30,000, Edwards said. “So far in 2016, we’ve raised $21,500. By June, we need to raise another $8,500 to meet our goal. If that $30,000 goal is achieved – and it will be – an anonymous donor has pledged another $10,000, which will round us up to $40,000, but she insists that we first raise $30,000.”
Edwards said money raised by the Foundation – all donations are tax deductible – is used for a variety of things, in addition to low-interest revolving loans for industries. “Your money is used, for example, to send Gary Lanier and others to foreign countries and cities to recruit industry,” Edwards said. “For example, Germany is looking hard at coastal counties. Once a prospect comes here and meets with some of the individuals in this room, that starts a relationship-building program. I call it the wine-and-dine process, and the wine-and-dine process makes closing deals very easy.”
He said that donations to the foundation also fund improvements and maintenance as well as maintaining and improving the group’s new web site at www.columbusjobsfoundation.org.
Edwards concluded, “Tell it and sell it, Columbus. God bless Columbus County.”