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  • Allen Turner

Jobs Foundation members hear good economic development news

Members of the Columbus Jobs Foundation heard lots of good local economic news Monday at their annual spring meeting at The Spillway outside Whiteville.

They heard presentations from Ron England of Cape Fearless Extreme, a zip line adventure park in Delco that has just started operations, from James Harris, the chief operating officer of an Australian transportation company that expects to triple its business here in six months (see story on page 1), and from the owner of a Cerro Gordo winery whose firm has just picked up a major contract for distribution of its product.

Jobs Foundation Chairman Les High presided over an informal gathering in which members were told that Shizzy’s Big Cat Sanctuary in Fair Bluff has cleared almost all zoning hurdles and expects to employ 15 people in three years, Gann Memorials Plush Toys now employs 20 people in Tabor City, an agribusiness firm is looking at the former Nice Blends building in the industrial park, there is renewed interest in the former Tortimex building in that same park, and that Whiteville Fabrics has just purchased five additional acres for possible future expansion of its operation in the old Conflandey building.

RadixBay, the computer consulting center at the Tabor City business incubator, now has 10 employees and hopes to hire 10-15 more if it can score a contract with a Fortune 500 company the Jobs Foundation just entertained.

There’s only one parking spot left at the Tabor City incubator. “That’s a good problem to have,” High said.

Hans Schreus of Cerro Gordo’s Carolina Vintage Winery told the group that his company’s signature blueberry wines, now sold in 27 stores, will soon be offered in more than 500 stores in North Carolina, thanks to a new contract with Food Lion. In addition, he’s looking at venturing into a wine canning venture. “Over the last four years, we’ve had a lot of people say they like our wine, but they can’t take it onto the beach with them, so we’re going to start making a canning wine that people can take to the beach,” Schreus said.

High touted the recent purchase of the former Georgia-Pacific site by the RJ Corman Railroad Group as the biggest economic decision in Columbus County in the last 20 years. “If they had not purchased the site, it would have been scrapped and it would have looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off there. It’s an industrial park within an industrial park,” he said.

He called Corman a “first-class operation” that has its own economic development arm. “They have 12 employees in Chadbourn and have gone from zero to 12 industrial customers since they’ve been operating here. When that G-P site takes off, they hope to have a number of train crews working out of Chadbourn with many more employees.”

High also said that final negotiations on “Project Black,” the still-unidentified bio-fuels company that wants to locate on the former G-P site, are well underway. “It’s getting close,” High said, “and there’s a good chance that you’ll see not just Project Black, but two or three more companies on the G-P site.” That’s in addition to S&A Railroad Ties, whose manager, Columbus County native Ron Gaskins also was introduced to the group.

The site could easily employ more than 200 people if other companies locate there.

“Columbus County needs a win right now and I think we’re going to get a big one this year,” High said. “Momentum is everything, and we’re looking forward to moving forward at the G-P site.”

Rick Edwards, who recently stepped down as head of the Jobs Foundation, reluctantly accepted recognition from High, who presented him with a Jobs Foundation hard hat. “Rick took the old Committee of 100 and reinvented it to form the Jobs Foundation,” High said. “For three years, we had a full-time volunteer in Rick. He put his heart and soul into it.”

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