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Committee of 100 gets $410,000 grant

By By RACHEL BROWN HACKNEY, Executive Editor
The members of the Beaufort County Committee of 100 learned the news Thursday at their monthly meeting, but the word wasn't official until Friday: The Committee of 100 has been awarded a $410,000 grant by the Golden LEAF Foundation.
Of those funds, $300,000 will go toward making the former Lowe's building on West 15th Street suitable for use by PrettlNoma, a German company that will manufacture panel systems and wire harnesses for appliance-maker BSH in New Bern. The remaining funds will go to Beaufort County Community College for the purchase of an injection molding machine to train prospective employees of PrettlNoma and other companies that use similar equipment, said Tom Thompson, Beaufort County's economic development director, in a telephone interview Friday.
(One of those other companies, Thompson said, is PolyTen. According to its Web site, PolyTen, at 209 Creekside Drive in Washington, manufactures and sells a wide variety of health care, home appliance, lawn and garden, personal care and industrial products. "It excels at the design and manufacture of complex geometric plastic components and precision insert molded or threaded parts.")
BCCC will send six county residents to Germany to learn how to operate the machinery that will be utilized by PrettlNoma, Thompson said. Then, they will return home to help train others through the college.
PrettlNoma plans to begin operations in June. Thompson said Thursday that the "upfit" of the Lowe's building would get under way in April and continue through May.
Both during the Committee of 100 meeting Thursday and in a telephone interview Friday, Thompson credited state Sen. Marc Basnight of Manteo with making the grant possible.
"Sen. Basnight was certainly the key," Thompson said. "We wouldn't have it without him."
In his 35 years in the economic development business, Thompson added, he never had seen another elected representative work so hard for his constituents. "He's just been marvelous."
Basnight could not be reached for comment Friday, but his communications director, Amy Fulk, said in a telephone interview Friday that "all the credit really goes to the people of Beaufort County. They've made such a solid effort," she said, to recruit industry and improve the local economy.
"Sen. Basnight really enjoyed working with people to bring PrettlNoma there," she added, and he looks forward to being involved in other, similar efforts to help Beaufort County.
Henry C. "Buster" Humphreys Jr., chairman of the Committee of 100, and Jeryl Rawls, chairman of the Beaufort County EDC's Board of Directors, were in Raleigh Thursday for the meeting of the Golden LEAF Foundation's Board.
"This has been in the works for three to four months," Rawls said. "That's what the Golden Leaf's there for – to help out Tier 1 counties."
Tier 1 is the lowest level in the state Commerce Department's ratings for county economic strength.
Humphreys said Friday, "This is a real positive move that will release the taxpayers from having to pay so much" for the Lowe's building.
Because of the $300,000 coming to the Committee of 100, he pointed out, the committee will be able to borrow less from the two banks that have committed to assisting with the project. The rent agreement the Committee of 100 is working on with PrettlNoma would not have allowed the committee to cover its mortgage payments on the building, Humphreys said. Utilizing the grant funds actually will enable the Committee of 100 to build a positive cash flow at the end of each year, he added.
Humphreys also believes PrettlNoma's presence in Beaufort County will entice other industries to locate in the area, as Thompson indicated Thursday in his presentation to the Committee of 100 members.
Told of the comments about Basnight's influence on the grant process, Humphreys told the Daily News he wanted to give a lot of credit as well to Lawrence Davenport, the chairman of the Golden LEAF Foundation. "He had to say, 'Yes,'" Humphreys noted, or the money would not have been awarded.
Davenport, a Pactolus agribusinessman, is former chairman of the Board of Directors of University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, for which Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville is the flagship medical facility. Humphreys recently took over the chairman's seat on that board. "He's just a great guy," Humphreys said of Davenport. "He is a friend of Beaufort County."
Valeria Lee, president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, told the Daily News in a telephone interview Friday that North Carolina's Northeast Partnership also had been a key player in the grant process. The partnership, headquartered in Edenton, represents Beaufort County and 15 other counties in efforts to boost industrial expansion and tourism in the region.
Lee said the foundation had had a letter from Rick Watson, the director of the partnership, and its chairman, Bob Spivey of Windsor, in support of the grant for Beaufort County. Gov. Mike Easley also had sent a letter asking the funds be awarded to the Committee of 100, she said.
The funds are coming out of the foundation's economic stimulus package, not as part of the regular grant cycle for the foundation, she explained. The foundation keeps funds in reserve for training and business development and for urgent requests. "We looked at this proposal in light of those" factors, she said.
"We really want the company to be there in Beaufort County," she said of PrettlNoma, "and we really want them to hire people from that area."
The foundation probably will send the Committee of 100 a resolution with terms for the grant early next week, Lee said. The committee must agree to those terms; then, 80 percent of the money will be forthcoming. The rest will come, Lee said, upon completion of the project.
She anticipated the Committee of 100 would have the money within 10 days.