Regional Report Triangle March 2010

 In 2010-03

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Incentives for Slim Jim plant don’t meet county standards 

To Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams, it’s simple: Wake County commissioners talk big about recruiting and retaining jobs, but they don’t follow through — at least not for his town. In January, the county refused to contribute $450,000 to an incentives package Garner officials were assembling to keep Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods Inc. from leaving.

The company hasn’t actually said it plans to, but Williams still worries. A natural-gas explosion in June killed four workers and collapsed part of the roof of the Slim Jim plant, cutting its production of the meat snacks by about half. In November, ConAgra laid off 300 of the 750 local workers and shifted production to other plants. Many in town fear that was a precursor to a shutdown.

“We thought in an effort to entice ConAgra to make the right decision to stay in Garner that we’d have a three-pronged offer — the town, the state and the county,” Williams says. “But we only have two of those parties at the table. It’s not the way I expected it to go.” He says the state pitched in a $450,000 grant, which the town matched with tax breaks. The package also might include state tax breaks. ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs says the company has no timetable for making a decision about the Garner plant. “The incentives will play a role.”

ConAgra doesn’t meet requirements of the county’s incentives policy, says Ken Atkins, director of Wake County Economic Development. The town’s plan doesn’t require the company to add jobs or invest in the plant, just maintain employment at the current level for a yet-unspecified period. To qualify for county help, Atkins says, an existing company must have at least $75 million of property on the books and commit to a $50 million investment or more. It also must create at least 50 jobs that pay more than the county average wage.

Williams says Wake is missing the point. “The county is going to suffer the loss of jobs and taxes, too, if ConAgra leaves. It is supposed to be all about jobs. The No. 2 goal the county commissioners set last year was to recruit and retain jobs. What they did was a little bit contrary to that policy.”

Atkins understands the town’s frustration but adds, “The county has a policy, and commissioners have chosen to not amend or change it. I can’t tell you much more than that.”

The leader of the pack

After a bumpy year in which its chancellor resigned amid questions about the hiring of the then-governor’s wife, N.C. State University found his replacement in the flat lands of northern Indiana. William Randolph “Randy” Woodson, provost at Purdue University, will begin work by May 1 as chancellor of the state’s largest university, which has nearly 34,000 students. Woodson, 52, will make $420,000 a year when he takes over from James Woodward, interim chancellor since James Oblinger’s resignation in June. An Arkansas native and researcher specializing in plant science, Woodson joined the Purdue faculty in 1985 after a stint at Louisiana State University. He became provost less than two years ago, overseeing all academic programs on the main campus and four regional campuses.


Two makers of portable high-tech equipment plan to open research centers in the region but wouldn’t disclose where. Garmin, an Olathe, Kan.-based maker of navigation devices, will hire up to 40 initially. It was drawn by the region’s large pool of engineers. Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes the Blackberry mobile phone, wouldn’t specify how many it will employ. Similar offices have about 200 workers.

CARYR.H. Donnelley emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy after shedding $6.4 billion in debt, leaving it with about $3.4 billion. The Yellow Pages publisher changed its name to Dex One. It employs about 450 in the Triangle and about 3,700 overall.

DURHAMSelf-Help Credit Union acquired three struggling credit unions, adding $90 million in assets and pushing its total to $560 million. The largest was Greensboro-based Choice Federal Credit Union, with $47 million in assets. The other two are based in California.

MORRISVILLEChannelAdvisor will add 60 jobs by the end of the year, giving it about 270 local employees. It sells software and services to help companies with online sales.

RALEIGH — Bedford Funding bought Peopleclick, which makes software for human-resources management, for $100 million. The New York private-equity firm plans to merge Peopleclick with Waltham, Mass.-based Authoria, a similar company it owns. It does not plan to cut any of Peopleclick’s 200 jobs.

MORRISVILLETransEnterix will add 30 workers by the end of the year, boosting employment to 80. It makes medical devices.

MORRISVILLEPhaseBio Pharmaceuticals raised $25 million to research products that extend the time drugs remain effective in the body. Funding was led by an investment arm of Melville, N.Y.-based OSI Pharmaceuticals and New Enterprise Associates in Chevy Chase, Md.

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