The Marion City Council approved an economic development incentive for an unnamed database center interested in property near the Universal building and discussed updates in the Drexel Heritage demolition cleanup in Tuesday’s meeting.
The Marion City Council held its second regular meeting for February on Tuesday. In a public hearing, Chuck Abernathy, former county manager and current executive director of the McDowell Economic Development Association (MEDA), addressed the council with an economic development incentive for a database center for an unspecified company located at the Universal Advanced Manufacturing Center.
“It’s basically a storage facility for information data, so you have places like Facebook and Google and Apple that have located to North Carolina and especially Western North Carolina,” said Abernathy. “I wish I could say it’s a household name, but it’s not. But it’s still a massive company.”
According to Abernathy, the name and nature of the interested company is not available for public record until a deal has been signed.
The company, Abernathy says, would invest between $15 million and $20 million of taxable value in 35,000 square feet in a section of the Universal building and employ 20 people. Pay rates would start in the $50,000 range and move up to the $70,000 range.
“Half of the jobs would require a two-year degree in computers from a community college,” said Abernathy, “so there will be a chance for locals to apply to some of these jobs, and that’s always nice.
This discussion, said Abernathy, is part of the incentive’s first phase, with the second phase to take place following another set of discussions and another public hearing.
Abernathy previously addressed the McDowell County Commissioners with the economic incentive in a Feb. 13 meeting. Following a public hearing, the incentive was approved by the commissioners.
In addition to the 35,000-plus square feet at Universal, the company requested 10 acres from the county for construction on property adjacent to the center, according to Abernathy. Jobs for this addition would tally between 70 to 80, as well as an investment from $80 million to $90 million.
“I told the county that type of commitment at $20 million would be in the top 15 taxpayers of the county, among number two, three or four in the city,” said Abernathy, specifying that the property of the potential site is annexed by the city of Marion. “At the upper level, it’s going be your largest and one of our five largest taxpayers. That’s a lot of money and a lot of investment.”
Mayor Steven Little went into detail on the incentives.
“The idea, of course, as Mr. Abernathy explained, the incentives consist of the city of Marion being willing to say, ‘Okay, if you bring in and invest 15 million dollars and hire at least 15 to 20 people, you do that,’ then this will mean, this company will pay us essentially $76,000 a year in taxes that we’re not receiving now,” he said. “We agreed to a period of five years that they would get back 55 percent of that money, so we’d still be gaining $30,000 a year that we’re not getting right now, and after five years, we’d be getting significantly more.”
Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin asked if the company would be paying for its own power, which Abernathy confirmed it would.
The council agreed to approve the incentive package with minor modification.
In other business:
• The council made a motion to open two-way traffic on Bakersville Road from Monte Vista Road to Airport Road during construction, then closing to one-way traffic once construction is complete, citing concerns from the Marion Fire Department in maneuvering vehicles in the event of an emergency.
• Planning Director Heather Cotton provided updates on the Drexel Heritage demolition cleanup effort, including forthcoming design and abatement procedures. According to Cotton, 12 permanent wells were installed in February to monitor water and soil contamination, with an environmental assessment by ECS arriving on March 5.
• In an add-on item on the agenda, the council agreed to split leftover costs of the school resource officer grant 50/50 between the city and the school board. Council member Juanita Doggett called the $28,000 grant, “Money well spent, whatever our contribution ends up being,” recalling a positive experience at Eastfield Global Magnet School with SRO Mike Hensley. In addition, City Manager Bob Boyette offered praise for local law enforcement like the Marion Police Department in working with the school system in seeking safety for the students, particularly in the wake of the Parkland, Fla. shooting.
• In the city manager’s report, Boyette addressed cooperation with the McDowell Chamber of Commerce in finalizing plans for the forthcoming municipal event center, now called the Larry D. Miller Business Complex. The 110,000 square-foot center, formerly the Rock-Tenn (or West Rock) building, could potentially have space for 1,450 seats as long as it can be up to code, according to Boyette.
• Boyette addressed plans in the widening process for Rutherford Road as well as concerns from adjacent property owners. The city manager praised local DOT for their communication and partnership in dealing with residential and business concerns in the widening process.