Friday, July 31, 2009

Incentives Game Changing With Recession

With one of North Carolina's highest unemployment rates--about 16 percent right now--Edgecombe County is able to offer companies some of the state's best economic incentives, should they choose to create jobs here. It's been an important strategy in recruiting large employers in recent years, like home shopping giant QVC, which built a 1.5 million square foot distribution facility in the 1990s. With 950 employees, QVC is one of Edgecombe's largest employers.

But in this economic climate, the way those incentives are being used is changing. Instead of using them to lure new companies to town, economic developers are rolling out incentives to keep the jobs they have from leaving. “You didn't used to have to work with the incentives for saving jobs. All of your incentives were about recruiting new jobs, ” Oppie Jordan, the Vice President for the
Gateways Regional Partnership says. “That's not true now. What you really have to do is work to save what you have and create the new so together it has been an interesting challenge...”

Edgecombe County lost out earlier this year to the state of Virginia in a battle to keep a Barcalounger furniture factory open. The company was planning to consolidate and ultimately chose to bring all of its operations together in Martinsville, VA instead of Edgecombe County.

But economic developers remain optimistic. They say that even in the midst of this recession, they're still seeing more activity and interest from companies looking to expand or shift their operations. One company that's chosen to move jobs to Edgecombe County, Montana Tractors, has slowly but surely been adding employees, about 40 right now. Montana is planning to move all of its operations to Tarboro except for its headquarters with plans to create as many as 70 jobs.

The recession has prompted many small business owners to band together and support each other. Many of the store owners on Tarboro's main street are making it a point to buy the things they need from each other instead of driving several miles away to 'big box'-type establishments.
On The Square Restaurant Owner Inez Ribustello says she's keeping the decorations in place as she reigns in costs. “That would be an obvious thing to cut, right? I mean, flowers, they're not necessary. We pay a premium for them. But then, you're starting the cycle of someone else going out of business and this is a local, someone, you know, your neighbor and you don't wanna do that and so we've kept the flowers and cut on other ends.”

Edgecombe County's unemployment rate went up from May-to-June and some of the laid off Barcalounger employees are now applying for jobless benefits. But Employment Security Commission officials are seeing more positive signs now than they have in recent months. For now, the layoff notices are coming in small numbers instead of large ones. More importantly, the office is also hearing from companies looking for workers, something that wasn't happening much a couple of months ago.

This is a community that's had a double-digit unemployment rate for more than a year now, but the numbers aren't enough to dampen an emerging spirit of optimism.

--Rob Holliday, UNC-TV


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