September 20, 2012
In the wake of the sudden end to the promising venture of a $100 million food distribution center an unknown company was considering building at the Guilford County
Prison Farm, bringing 400 or 500 new jobs to the area, there's now no giant new facility, no new jobs and no new investment. However, among local officials, there is a lot of disappointment and finger pointing. There are also a lot of questions.
The questions have come from the fact that, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners came out of an hour-long closed session and, out of the blue, voted to relocate the county's Prison Farm facilities to another area of the Prison Farm – and, less than 24 hours later, Guilford County
officials were being informed that the giant new deal, with hundreds of new jobs and $100 million in investment on the line, had evaporated back into the same thin air it seemingly came out of.
About 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, Greensboro Economic Development Alliance President Dan Lynch called Chairman of the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners Skip Alston and told him the deal had fallen through.
Alston phoned Guilford County
Manager Brenda Jones Fox and asked her to inform the board. Fox began calling commissioners, telling them the company had pulled out.
The reason given for the company's decision was that the company wanted to move quickly and there were concerns that rezoning the land at the Prison Farm for industrial use and extending water and sewer lines from Gibsonville would take too long.
When Fox told the commissioners the bad news, she instructed them that the sudden demise of the deal was "confidential." However, the Thursday, Sept. 13 edition of The Rhinoceros Times reported that the deal had fallen through.
With little to no information on why the company had pulled out, some area leaders – behind the scenes at least – were playing the blame game.
Some said Gibsonville was at fault because the town hadn't jumped at the opportunity to provide low-cost water for the project that would have given Gibsonville no new property tax revenue – but would have brought 500 to 700 additional truck trips a day near and through the town.
Others blamed the three commissioners who voted against moving the Prison Farm – saying the three dissenting votes made the company realize Guilford County
wasn't entirely behind the project.
According to some, Lynch and other area economic development officials got way ahead of themselves – making an obviously tenuous project sound like a nearly done deal.
Still others say Guilford County
is to blame because it has been dragging its feet for years when it comes to preparing for large-scale economic development – for instance, earlier this year the Board of Commissioners unanimously rejected conducting a study of the Prison Farm that would have answered a lot of questions the company had. Others place the blame on all of the above.
When Lynch left the county commissioners meeting on Sept. 11 after convincing the board to vote to move the Prison Farm operations, contingent on the company choosing Guilford County
for the new facility, Lynch was all smiles. However, the next day county officials got word that the deal was dead. Lynch wouldn't comment on the sudden turn around or anything related to the project.
"I can't talk about the project at all," Lynch told The Rhinoceros Times this week.
Alston said that, from his conversation with Lynch, he thought that Lynch, like the commissioners, had been blindsided by the decision.
"I think it surprised Dan too," Alston said.
Alston said Lynch asked the commissioners to agree to move the county's Prison Farm operations because Lynch was doing everything he could to land the highly beneficial project for Guilford County
, and one of the things Lynch felt would help make that happen was if the Board of Commissioners showed it was willing to move the Prison Farm operations.
Lynch said he's of the opinion that the land at the Prison Farm has a "higher and better use" for the community than its current use.
"That was the premise that we laid out to the commissioners," Lynch said.
At the Sept. 11 Board of Commissioners meeting, the three no votes were from Commissioners Kirk Perkins, Bill Bencini and Billy Yow.
Lynch said he was of course hoping for a unanimous vote from the board to demonstrate that the county was 100 percent behind the company coming here.
Alston said this week that it was his understanding that the company pulled out of Guilford County
because of infrastructure issues and rezoning concerns given the company's desire to move quickly.
Alston also expressed those sentiments in a Thursday, Sept. 13 memo that he sent to his fellow commissioners. The memo states: "We were informed that the party interested in pursuing a site at the Prison Farm has eliminated Guilford County
(the Prison Farm) from consideration.
"This decision was based on the fact that the critical factors involved timing issues beyond our ability to control pertaining to the extension of water & sewer service to the property and the rezoning process.
"In the final analysis the client's consultant determined we could not accommodate their aggressive development schedule. The consultant did strongly encourage we use this situation and the experience gained to move forward in our plans to develop the Farm property."
According to several sources, the mystery company that snubbed Guilford County
is now considering two remaining sites – one near Mebane and another in Virginia.
Alston said Perkins, who lives in Gibsonville, didn't want the project in that area, and Alston added that Gibsonville was against providing water for the company.
The truth is that the stance of Gibsonville isn't known since the town was presented with the idea on Monday Sept. 10, and they had no time to learn the most basic facts or discuss the matter in any detail. The company pulled out on Sept. 12, and the Gibsonville Town Council hadn't met in the meantime – before they could, the deal had evaporated.
Perkins, Yow and Bencini said they voted against the project because they didn't know enough about it. In the Sept. 11 Board of Commissioners closed session, the commissioners didn't find out what company it was, what product would be made or handled there, or much of anything else other than the fact that there was a large company with a giant project – a building of over 1 million square feet, $100 million in new investment, and 400 to 500 new jobs.
Yow said he did learn some details later. He said the sought after facility was a "large cannery."
He said that's why it would bring so many trucks and why it would be so water intensive.
"They would be bringing in vegetables and washing them and packaging them and then loading up the trucks and driving them off," Yow said.
Gibsonville Mayor Lenny Williams said the first time he officially heard about the project was at the Monday, Sept 10 town staff meeting, when Lynch told Gibsonville officials of the deal. Perkins and Fox were also at that meeting....continued on page 2