Thursday, June 20, 2024

Eastern: Switching tracks

By Edward Martin

The gamble was worth millions, and Norris Tolson and his Carolinas Gateway Partnership knew they risked not only losing a large industrial project but triggering neighbors’ enmity. In July, though, when CSX Corp. announced it would build a $272 million intermodal cargo terminal in Rocky Mount, their bet paid off. The key was soft-pedaling in a hardball arena.

CSX revealed in early January it planned a terminal where cargo containers will come and go by rail and be transferred to trucks, some bound for North Carolina ports. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad initially targeted nearby Johnston County, where property owners blasted the company for heavy-handed tactics including threats of invoking eminent domain to force land sales. The project generated stiff opposition from county commissioners and others. Gov. Pat McCrory, an initial champion of the project, declared the site “no longer a viable option.”

The reception was different in Rocky Mount, where Gateway CEO Tolson was assembling a 710-acre site. Amid the Johnston County controversy, Gateway, a public-private organization that promotes industry in Nash and Edgecombe counties, contacted CSX.

“We were strongly in favor of the whole intermodal concept, and saw the difficulty they were having in Johnston,” says Tolson, a former North Carolina secretary of commerce.

“We said to CSX, we know the landowners here, so let us do the optioning process for you,” Tolson says. CSX encouraged Gateway to secure options, though it was  considering the Johnston site and several other locations. Gateway locked in more than 700 acres, and on June 19, CSX chose Rocky Mount, which had a 7.5% unemployment rate in June, the highest of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas.

CSX’s Carolina Connection terminal will create 250 construction jobs and, with spinoffs such as new logistics companies, could pump $330 million in public benefits over 30 years. About 150 permanent CSX jobs are planned with an average salary of about $60,000.

The terminal will particularly benefit eastern North Carolina by improving its chances to land a major industry, Tolson and others say. The region’s hopes are focused on a 1,450-acre industrial site already assembled east of Rocky Mount.

The intermodal terminal also provides another boost for the area, following a proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route that will supply natural gas to a region stymied by inadequate energy options. Pending federal approval, the line could open by late 2018.

“I’d make a strong case that the intermodal terminal in eastern North Carolina is a big deal all over the state,” Tolson says. “CSX will now start marketing North Carolina and this site all over the country. It literally puts us on the map globally when it comes to logistics.”

Stephanie Castagnier Dunn was named national sales manager of First Bank’s newly created SBA lending division. Dunn, 40, will be based in Wilmington. She was previously a general manager for funeral-home lending and later a director of channel partner relationships for emerging industries for Live Oak Bancshares, based in Wilmington. A graduate of McGill University in her native Montreal, Canada, Dunn was a participant on NBC’s The Apprentice in 2010. First Bank, based in Southern Pines, has about $3.5 billion in assets and 87 branches.

ROCKINGHAM — Direct Pack, a subsidiary of Sun Valley, Calif.-based PMC Global, will hire 94 workers over five years and invest nearly $12.8 million in a new plant. The company makes plastic food containers for produce and take-out items. Direct Pack will receive a state grant of up to $300,000.

FAYETTEVILLE — GateHouse Media acquired Fayetteville Publishing, the parent company of The Fayetteville Observer, for an undisclosed amount. Owned by the Lilly family for 93 years, Fayetteville Publishing employs about 325 people. New York-based GateHouse owns about 125 daily newspapers, including the Wilmington StarNews and the Gaston Gazette.

MOUNT OLIVE — U-Play will invest $21.3 million and create 88 jobs at a plant here, its first U.S. location. The China-based company makes disposable sanitary products including wipes and puppy training pads.

ENFIELD — Safelite Glass will shutter its local plant by Oct. 10, and 210 workers will lose their jobs. The Columbus, Ohio-based company makes replacement windshields at the factory, which opened in 1970.

WILMINGTON — Pharmaceutical Product Development will acquire Evidera, a health care research and analytics firm based in Bethesda, Md., and London. Terms were not disclosed. Evidera is owned by Symphony Technology Group, a private-equity firm. PPD, a contract-research organization, employs more than 16,000 people worldwide.

WILMINGTON — Laura Lunsford was named director of the Swain Center for Business and Economic Services at UNC Wilmington. The center offers programs and services for local workers and businesses. A North Carolina native with degrees from N.C. State University and UNC Greensboro, Lunsford was most recently an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

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