Regional Report Triad June 2010

 In 2010-06

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Surry board dumps poop-power project 

In early May, Terry Walmsley didn’t seem worried about Fibrowatt LLC’s chances of building a $140 million plant near Elkin to turn chicken litter into electricity. “We’re more bullish today than we have been in months,” the Langhorne, Pa.-based company’s vice president of environmental and public affairs said. Two weeks later, Surry County commissioners voted unanimously to sever ties, telling Fibrowatt that they were putting the 117-acre site up for sale to other industrial users.

What happened? Chairman Paul Johnson says commissioners lost patience. There had been warning shots: Earlier this spring, the board had voted to withhold local incentives for the plant — which would have created about 80 jobs burning poultry waste to generate power — unless Fibrowatt started answering residents’ questions about the potential smell and environmental hazards. A few days later, the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses in Surry, Yadkin and Wilkes counties, withdrew its endorsement of the plant.

That initially seemed to work. “They’re starting to gain some trust,” Johnson said in early May, referring to Fibrowatt executives meeting with community groups. “Business people in the county have made comments that were favorable to Fibrowatt.” Walmsley also believed his company had turned the corner. “What we’ve tried to do is provide as many opportunities as possible for people to learn about our proposals.” In addition to meetings, he says, the company started a blog — — to counter opposition to its projects, including those in Sampson and Montgomery counties.

But residents weren’t convinced. Richard Loftis, who owns a Mount Airy heating and air-conditioning company, attended one of the presentations. “The folks that spoke to us were very sincere. They didn’t dodge our questions, and they sounded like they would be good corporate citizens.” However, Loftis wasn’t sure the project was right for Surry County. Opposition grew; the meetings ended. “It wasn’t just the environmental activists,” Johnson says. “It was average, everyday citizens that were concerned with what was going on.”

Fibrowatt says it will proceed with the other North Carolina plants, but the company faces another problem: It still doesn’t have a buyer for the electricity they would produce. Meanwhile, Surry County is marketing the site — which it bought for about $786,000 — to a variety of industries, Johnson says, adding that he’s not worried about potential buyers being scared off by the nullification of the Fibrowatt deal. “If other companies do their due diligence like our economic-development people ask them to, this county is very helpful. But they have to be responsive to our needs.”

KERNERSVILLE — The FedEx Ground Package System distribution hub under construction could employ as many as 1,400 full- and part-time workers within 10 years. It is scheduled to open in September 2011 with 750 to 800 employees, about 500 from two existing operations in Winston-Salem.

WINSTON-SALEMKrispy Kreme Doughnuts expects to make a profit in the fiscal year that began Feb. 1. It lost $157,000 last year after losing $4 million the previous. International sales increased 12% to $4.6 million.

WINSTON-SALEM — The top five executives at Targacept received bigger bonuses but no salary increases in 2009 after the company made a breakthrough on a depression treatment. CEO Don deBethizy got a bonus of $143,259, compared with $8,652 in 2008. His salary was $384,525.

GREENSBOROGuilford Performance Textiles, formerly Guilford Mills, will close its last local plant by year-end, putting about 150 out of work. Founded in 1946, the company moved headquarters to Wilmington in 2005. Its other Tar Heel mill employs about 1,000 in Kenansville.

LEXINGTONUnited Furniture Industries of Okolona, Miss., will open its third North Carolina plant and create 150 jobs within three years. It employs about 400 in Archdale and High Point.

WINSTON-SALEMR.J. Reynolds Tobacco will pay about $325 million to settle a lawsuit with local and national governments in Canada.They say a defunct Reynolds subsidiary aided cigarette smuggling in the 1980s and 1990s.

WINSTON-SALEMNovant Health, the parent of Forsyth Medical Center, Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte and 11 other hospitals in North Carolina and Virginia, netted $197 million in 2009 — about $123 million from investments. It lost $174 million in 2008.

REIDSVILLEAFG Wipes plans to add 95 jobs within a year, for a total of nearly 300. Parent Albaad Corporate, based in Israel, recently won a contract to produce a new wet-wipe product.

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