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WJ applies for Rural Economic Development Center grant

Originally published: Oct. 24
Last modified: Oct. 24

Adam Orr

The West Jefferson Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center grant application Oct. 16.

The measure gives West Jefferson Town Manager Brantley Price authority to apply for a $500,000 NCREDC Building Reuse and Restoration grant to be used in the 80,000-square-foot expansion of General Electric Aviation's 120,000-square-foot Ray Taylor Road Facility.  

“This is a timeliness issue of getting the grant submitted,” Associate Vice President of Wilkes Community College’s Ashe Campus Chris Robinson said. “Without a (county) manager ... it seemed to be more appropriate to keep that moving along with someone like Brantley keeping control of the rudder.”

Building Reuse and Restoration grants assist communities in maximizing the economic potential of existing structures, according to the program.

Grants are available for restoration and up-fitting vacant buildings and the expansion and renovation of currently occupied manufacturing businesses. Grants match other public and private funding and must lead to the creation of private sector jobs by new or expanding businesses.

“The government says that a 5 percent match of the grant is required but where the town has already agreed to do a $615,000 incentive with GE, the Rural Center will let us use that with our match so there will not be a cash match along with it,” Price said.

“I did go to GE last week and took photographs and met with the facility’s leader,” Price said. “Once they start the expansion, they will submit the invoices and checks that have to be paid, and the town won’t actually be out the funds. We’ll submit those for reimbursement and we’ll give that back to GE. This is really us taking the lead and getting this going.”

Price said GE is on track to move forward with their planned expansion, and recently signed a more than $14 million purchase order.

“At this point, they do plan on breaking ground in the spring,” Price said.

Robinson said the grant program has similar requirements to the town’s incentive proposal.

“So for each job they create as they spend money they are reimbursed,” Robinson said. “It’s not just for the building but for the creation of the jobs.”

West Jefferson Alderman Stephen Shoemaker said he continues to hear excitement about GE’s expansion.

“A lot of people came up to me after that debacle that happened with the county and wanted to know if the GE project was going to fall on its face,” Shoemaker said. “I said, ‘No, I think we’re far enough along and still have enough people behind it,’ so we’re excited about it and I think (Former Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell) will be pretty well pleased by what she set in motion.”

On June 3, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners and the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a combined $1.2 million local incentive package to assist GE in the expansion of its West Jefferson facility.

Commissioners approved $585,000 with West Jefferson funding the balance of $615,000, which will reportedly result in at least $56 million in taxable investment over the next five years, an 80,000-square-foot expansion at GE's Ray Taylor Road facility and the creation of 105 new jobs. The proposed investment would also allow for increased capacity to assume additional GE machining work.

Compensation for the new positions will vary by job function, according to the company, but average annual wage will be $47,942 in addition to benefits. Ashe County's median household income is approximately $36,500 per year.

The nine-year joint board incentive package is based on investment and job creation, with the company meeting certain benchmarks through 2021, according to former Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell.

Local incentives would be paid between 2014 and 2020, while all of the company’s investment and job creation would occur by the end of 2017.

On July 9, GE Aviation made its expansion plans official and announced it would expand its operations at four locations across the state, including West Jefferson.
For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.