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Committee gets PrettlNoma update

By By RACHEL BROWN HACKNEY, Executive Editor
CHOCOWINITY – PrettlNoma Systems, the newest industry to announce plans to locate in Beaufort County, has hired its first employee from the county, members of the Beaufort County Committee of 100 learned Thursday at their monthly meeting.
The woman formerly worked for Miller Harness, Tom Thompson, director of the county's Economic Development Commission, told the approximately 110 people at the James Clinton Convention Center in Chocowinity.
The committee was expecting to close on the former Lowe's Building on West 15th Street by the end of this week, Thompson said, at which time it would own about $2.8 million in property.
The committee also is working on its lease agreement with PrettlNoma, Thompson said.
Once the Lowe's building becomes Committee of 100 property, Thompson said, work will begin – and continue through May – to modify it for use by the German supplier for the BSH appliance-making company in New Bern.
Thompson Thursday sought to ease concerns raised after the Daily News published an article last month about the restructuring of GenTek, a 50-percent owner of PrettlNoma Systems. GenTek filed a voluntary petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy code on Oct. 11, 2002. In January, local EDC officials and the Committee of 100 announced PrettlNoma's plans to locate its North American headquarters in Washington.
The Daily News article had quoted Thompson and Richard Wool, a spokesman for GenTek's media representatives, as saying the GenTek situation would have no bearing on PrettlNoma's plans for the Washington manufacturing operation.
"GenTek is not linked to PrettlNoma formally," Thompson told the Committee of 100 members Thursday. PrettlNoma "is a stand-alone company," he said, and it already has a seven-year contract with BSH.
The EDC was notified by state officials in November about GenTek's situation, Thompson said, after they had discovered it in due diligence. "They looked at it, came back and … said there is not a problem."
GenTek just owns stock in PrettlNoma, he said. "There was a lot of smoke but no fire" in the bankruptcy story. "There is no connection between GenTek's Chapter 11 and PrettlNoma."
On a further note about PrettlNoma, Thompson said company officials eventually hope to employ 200 people. At that point, he used a video display to show the committee members how the "multiplier effect" boosts a county's economy after a new industry has begun operations.
Statistically, he said, PrettlNoma's location in Beaufort County could mean an additional 600 jobs, beyond its hoped-for 200 positions. Its expected $10 million investment is anticipated to have a total $40 million impact on the economy, and retail sales are expected to jump $4 million as a result of all the new employees and their families shopping in the county.
However, Thompson pointed out, it takes about three years after a new company opens for the multiplier effect to reach its full force.
That multiplier works in reverse, as well. When companies leave, it takes about three years for an area to feel all the negative effects. That is the situation in which Beaufort County has found itself over the past several months, he noted.
"We have stopped growing," Thompson said.
However, he said, if the county workforce increases even 1 percent each year from this point, "We'll be back and running."
He added that he thought that growth was feasible.
In other news Thursday, Roger Tuttle of Chocowinity, chairman of the Miracle Mile Committee, told the group, "It has been cold; it has been wet," slowing down work over the past several months. However, just recently, the committee received permission to pursue its next project – "to take down, demolish, destroy the old Channel 12 billboard" on U.S. Highway 17 near the WDLX/WERO radio station.
Tuttle said he is hoping to see that work accomplished soon, with volunteer help.
"The Miracle Mile is still on the move," he added.
The committee was organized just over a year ago to beautify the segment of U.S. 17 between Chocowinity and Washington.
To emphasize Tuttle's remarks, Thompson told the audience, "That's our first billboard" marked for removal on the route.