County’s development chief paints a positive picture

Published 8:53 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008

By Staff
Some companies struck by recession, fuel prices
Staff Writer
While some Beaufort County businesses have been hit by the weak economy and increasing fuel prices, the county’s chief economic developer is painting a favorable outlook for future economic growth.
The Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, in league with the county’s Committee of 100, brought 144 new jobs to the county last year, Tom Thompson, the county’s chief economic developer, said Monday in his annual report to county commissioners. Since 2002, the EDC has courted companies that have added 830 jobs to the local economy, he said.
Those companies, since 2002, have generated nearly $116,000,000 in tax revenue. They were coaxed into moving to Beaufort County partly through the EDC and Committee of 100 netting state and federal grant dollars to cover the cost of setting up shop. Since 2002, the agencies have received and dispensed about $11 million in grant funding, according to Thompson.
Most of the 12 companies Thompson highlighted in his report added jobs last year, with Impressions, a marketing company, atop the list with 30 new jobs for a total of 240 jobs. But not all is well, according to Thompson.
Hi Tide Boat Lifts, which set up a distribution center for its machines and had planned to build a manufacturing plant in the county, has since closed its facility — a victim of the economic recession that Thompson said has hit the boating and waterfront-development industries hard.
X.S. Smith, a company that makes greenhouses at the Beaufort County Industrial Park, added only one job last year. It now employs 15 people, and it is slowing its expansion because of economic conditions stemming from the prolonged drought, Thompson said.
Despite the slowdown for some businesses, Thompson said, the prospects for recruiting new businesses to the county are good. In 2004, there were no companies at the industrial park. Now, there are four occupied buildings and a vacant speculative building that is the only one of its size in eastern North Carolina. The county also has established a second industrial park in Chocowinity that has one company, Southtech Plastics.
Though Southtech is also experiencing a slow down — its products are used to build automobiles and boats — Thompson said the company made it possible to obtain required construction permits for the industrial park. Another company could become a neighbor for Southtech if it decides to set up shop at the industrial park. Thompson identified the Brazil-based company as that would invest $220 million in the county. The company is set to make a decision Thursday, he said.
Two companies are working in the Beaufort County Skills Center, a facility that provides temporary manufacturing and office spaces to help prepare companies for their moves. One is In Systems Design, a German company that helps design manufacturing systems.
The second company, which has not yet been identified, will be announced within the week, Thompson said.
Thompson also said the hope of bringing an ethanol plant to Aurora remains alive. A company that makes ethanol with wood and an English power plant that also uses wood are eying the town as a place to set up shop, he said. Thompson would not elaborate on them. Both companies would construct $100 million plants in southeastern Beaufort County, if they choose to follow through with their plans, he said.
The EDC is working with Fountain Powerboats owner Reggie Fountain to help move Baja Boats to Beaufort County. Fountain recently acquired the boat-building company, a move that would make it the largest performance-boat builder in the world and bring about 250 jobs to the county.