LUMBERTON — County Attorney Hal Kinlaw believes that Robeson County has a bright future with the food manufacturing industry.
“The food industry is a high-labor industry that requires a large number of workers,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we have a good mix of workers that can provide the workforce for that industry.”
Kinlaw made his comments shortly after the Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved an incentive package for a food manufacturer that is considering locating in Pembroke. The company, referred to as Project Sweet Daddy by county officials, would create between 100 and 150 jobs.
After a public hearing held on the second day of the county’s annual three-day retreat, the commissioners agreed to offer the company an incentives package providing tax relief for five years. The package provides a possibility for tax relief to be extended to 10 years if the company follows through with its plans to create 100 jobs or more.
According to the company’s plans, it will develop its presence in Robeson County in two phases, with a total capital investment of $20 million. A total of 150 jobs would be created with a starting wage of $9.50 an hour.
“This is a good project,” Greg Cummings, the county’s economic developer, told the commissioners. “We need this kind of project to strengthen our economy.”
Kinlaw said after the meeting that if the company locates in Pembroke, it will be the second major food manufacturer to locate in Pembroke in recent years. Two years ago, Steven Rogers Original desserts and Ticklebelly Desserts, headquartered in Denver, Colo., opened in Pembroke and now employs 300 people.
According to County Manager Ricky Harris, Project Sweet Daddy is considering moving into the former Comark building on Deep Branch Road. The county is currently applying for a grant from the N.C. Rural Center to help the company refurbish the building to meet its needs, Harris said.
During the retreat Thursday, the commissioners heard presentations from a number of county department heads.
During a presentation by Constance Young, the county’s Human Resources director, Commissioner Hubert Sealey asked Young how it can be guaranteed that the the “best qualified” individual is hired for a specific job.
“I’m concerned about our hiring practices,” Sealey said.
In response to questions by Sealey, Young said that she is not involved in the interviewing process of job applicants. Department heads and committees do the interviews and make final recommendations to the county manager, she said.
“Doesn’t that bother you?, ” Sealey said.
“Yes it does …,” Young said. “I would like to be more involved in the process.”
Another major issue discussed by the commissioners Thursday was ongoing plans to eventually construct a new county jail to replace the present overcrowded and antiquated detention center located on Legend Road.
Sheriff’s Maj. George Kenworthy, who oversees jail operations, told the commissioners that average daily population during 2012 was about 400 inmates, 20 fewer than its permitted capacity. He said about 18 to 23 inmates are currently housed in other county jails at an average cost to the county of about $40 a day. The cost can be “significantly more” if the out-of-county inmate has medical problems or must be transported from other counties for court appearances, he said.
Kenworthy said that the county’s pre-trial release program, which allows some alleged offenders to be monitored at their home with an ankle bracelet, does ease crowding.
“It is vital in managing the population,” he said. “Every inmate we can get out helps us manage the population.”
Kenworthy told the commissioners that recently installed new heating and cooling systems have lowered energy costs at the jail significantly. Other work is needed, however, including roof repairs to stop leaks.
Kenworthy encouraged individual commissioners to become familiar with how jails are constructed and operate.
“If you look at a few jails you can get ideas … The format of almost all are alike.” he said.
Other department heads the commissioners heard from Thursday include: Sheriff Kenneth Sealey; Laura Smith, jail health administrator; Chris Oxendine, director of Veterans Services; Charlie McNair, director of the county’s (vehicle) fleet; and Angela Locklear, director of the county’s Wellness Program. Also, there were presentations by Millicent Collins, the county’s grant writer and Cindy Lowry, tax administrator.
The retreat resumed for its final day this morning at 8:45. Included on today’s agenda are reports by County Manager Ricky Harris, and Finance Director Kellie Blue.