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Archive for the ‘Economic Development’ Category

If the phone calls coming into The Messenger’s office are any indication, there is considerable outrage from Mount Airy to Washington, D.C. and NYC about N.C. Granite Corp. losing a $5.5 million contract for work on the 9/11 memorial to an Italian firm.
A spokesperson with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Committee says that they have no control over a subcontractor’s decision, which is where N.C. Granite submitted its bid. But the folks over at N.C. Granite say they were blindsided by the rejection, being told of the decision in an email.
Officials there say they will lobby for more media exposure on the decision and have already contacted their congressional representatives. In addition to losing the contract to a foreign firm, N.C. Granite now says it will likely have to lay off 40 workers at a time when jobs are hard to come by.

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The latest unemployment figures were a relief locally …. almost. Maintaining the same 13.3 percent unemployment rate is hardly something for Surry to cheer about, but after so many months of steady increases, it’s nice to see the number reach a peak.

For a little more perspective on these numbers, check out this excellent animated graphic in Slate tracking job loss/gain over the last couple of years. You can pick any of the last 26 months and see how Surry’s job totals compared to a year prior, plus it provides cues on how the rest of the country was fairing. Quick take: Surry’s job losses started well before the rest of the country hit the skids, but it wasn’t the only part of the nation hurting as far back as 2007.

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I posted last month about the phone survey regarding a Fibrowatt plant in Surry. Here’s the full transcript of questions and results for Surry and Yadkin respondents. Judge for yourself if you feel the questions are biased against the project.

In the meantime, the Charlotte Observer has now written a piece on the issue (first time in years I can recall that paper covering something in Surry) and it also ran in the Raleigh News & Observer. Both papers wrote their own editorials on Fibrowatt, with Charlotte taking making a straightforward appeal for caution while the N&O is a bit harder hitting about warning flags needing to go up.

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The back and forth debate on a proposed Fibrowatt power plant in Surry County is way too complex to summarize in this space, although you can read some of the ongoing arguments here, here or here.

But no matter the reason, a majority of local residents are in opposition to the $140 million project, according to Yadkin Riverkeeper, an advocacy group for protecting the area’s river basin. The organization commissioned a telephone survey by non partisan Public Policy Polling, the results of which show overwhelming views against Fibrowatt or industrial development in general for the area. These findings would dispute county commissioners’ long cited claims that the majority of residents are in favor of the project.

When assessing any survey, however, it’s critical to look at the specific wording of the questions asked, especially with a complex topic like this. County commissioners say they’ve recieved complaints from those surveyed that the questions were skewed against Fibrowatt. I wasn’t surveyed myself, but I requested from Yadkin Riverkeeper a copy of the questions. I’ll report back if they’re sent over.

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Anyone arriving at Thursday’s public hearing on a state prison in Surry County looking for some conflict on the issue, and my strong hunch is that WXII fell into that category, would have left fairly underwhelmed. While the TV news report does make note of some opposition to the concept of a prison, that was exclusively a byproduct of fierce objection to a Fibrowatt power plant near Elkin. Residents came to speak out against the plant, and with the prison public hearing next on the agenda, their comments bled over into general criticism about Surry’s economic direction.

But no one arrived Thursday specifically to voice objections to the prison, and other speakers revealed how the idea has gained favor among pretty much every elected official for Surry. As detailed in the March 6 Messenger, the area’s legislative delegation is now backing the project, and proponents continue to bend ears in Raleigh to give the county a leg up over other’s competing for the $100 million facility.

There was a huge elephant in the room, however, and that’s the great unknown of what sites the county could offer up the state for prison construction. Not just any piece of land will do. It’s got to be big (100-150 acres), near utilities, close to a highway network and not so expensive as to break the taxpayers’ back. Then of course you have the opposition almost certain to arise from those who live nearby.

With hundreds of jobs tied to this project, it continues to gain momentum in terms of support. But where exactly could a prison be placed? And will the search for that site, and the public hearings after one is selected, eventually grind the momentum to a halt?

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That’s not an original, or even a newly coined, metaphor to describe the prolonged debate over a Fibrowatt plant in Surry County turning poultry litter into electricity. Throughout the two-year recruitment process, public officials and environmental groups batted back and forth on whether the proposed $150 million plant would do more economic good than environmental harm. Those following it all heard this metaphor more than once from a variety of sources.

But a grassroots group that just bubbled up opposing the plant has a new metaphor, and a new argument, to throw into the sphere of public debate. It involves Surry County, with its attractive natural resources and tourist destinations, as the prettiest girl at the ball and the power plant as a chain smoking deadbeat trying to take her home. Simply put, new opponents think saying yes to the plant means saying no to possible growth in the tourism and retirement sectors, sacrificing a quick boost to the tax base for a more sustainable plan to lure new businesses through quality of life. And that’s only one component of the multi-faceted status of the plant, a crossroads detailed in the March 1 edition of The Messenger.

Nine months after Fibrowatt’s announcement to locate in Surry, the company is still looking for a power purchase agreement with Duke Energy, while the county is still firming up a multi-million dollar incentives package. There’s still rezoning needed on the proposed site and an air quality permit from the state before any construction can begin. With hundreds of residents just now adding their voices to the debate, and local government officials reiterating their strong support, expect a lot more unsavory metaphors in the next few months.

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For years Elkin-based Yadkin Valley Bank was one of the town’s best success stories, steadily growing to eclipse the $1 billion mark in assets a few years back and become a regional presence thanks in large part to acquisitions with several smaller banks.

But that was then, and the here and now is not pretty for just about any bank. So when Yadkin Valley’s board of directors recommended using around half of its $36 million from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to aquire Charlotte-based American Community Bancshares, board member Dan Park, one of Yadkin Valley’s founders, publicly voiced his opposition.

Park’s warnings were first reported in the Feb. 18 Messenger, with a Feb. 22 follow-up detailing a delayed merger vote and more widespread opposition that’s now out in the open. Proponants of the deal tout the presence Yadkin Valley would gain in the crucial Charlotte metropolitin area, while those opposed point to American Community’s recent fiscal troubles along with Yadkin Valley’s own reduced profits. Next month we’ll find out where the shareholders side.

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