Brunswick site wins rare certification officials hope will draw new industry, jobs

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Brunswick County is now home to a rare “select” site.

The Mid-Atlantic Industrial Rail Park at the border with Columbus County has become only the 12th spot in a 23-state service area to earn the CSX rail company’s “Select Site” designation, awarded to industrial parks that essentially have all the infrastructural and situational goods that large prospects are looking for.

The bottom line: a higher profile for Brunswick County–and a better shot with industrial job creators.

“CSX Select Sites are the first, premium certified rail-served sites for industrial development and expansion,” says the company, which flew representatives to Brunswick County today to announce the news.

Jim Van Derzee, a CSX industrial development manager, told local officials at a press conference in Leland that when companies search for sites to build new facilities, they use a process of elimination. The land isn’t served by rail? It may be eliminated as a candidate. The land has rail access but no available utilities? It may be eliminated as a candidate.

“The CSX ‘Select Sites’ program’s goal is to remove those reasons [for elimination] and instill confidence in the site,” said Van Derzee.

The designation basically means the Mid-Atlantic industrial park’s stats are certified on paper with CSX, and it’s a certification that gets under the eyes of major, expanding companies.

The park covers more than 1,100 acres off U.S. 74/76 near Leland and is adjacent to a CSX rail line. Meeting other criteria in the certification is its interstate highway access, its water and sewer service and a local workforce determined ready for industrial prospects.

The rail company also noted its proximity to the Port of Wilmington, and that in 2016, the opening of the next leg of Interstate 140 will give the park a direct route to Interstate 40 and to Wilmington International Airport.

“When you have that to start … you’re across the 50-yard line” toward winning those prospects and the jobs they bring, said Jonathan Gemmen of Austin Consulting, which CSX employs to vet industrial sites applying for the select designation. “You’ve got a really good opportunity here.”

“There are literally hundreds of sites that CSX has in their 23 states, and for us to be number 12 as one of the top industrial sites in the CSX system is really exciting,” said Jim Bradshaw, executive director of the Brunswick County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). He is also a former CSX official.

EDC says the park (the Mid-Atlantic Logistics Center in its former name) is ideal for assembly, manufacturing or distribution centers.

In late 2011, word broke that Continental Tire was eyeing the park as a finalist for a manufacturing plant that could have brought around 1,700 jobs. In the end, the company selected land in South Carolina, which had offered a thick incentives package. To have located at the Brunswick site, North Carolina was expected to hand the company $45 million up front, a deal the state legislature chose not to meet.

But the park remained a general contender. In April 2012, Southern Business & Development, a magazine covering economic development matters from Maryland to Texas, picked the Mid-Atlantic site and Brunswick County’s International Logistics Park–another 1,000-plus-acre site directly across the road–as one of the multi-state region’s 10 most likely places to land “the next big kahuna,” or a Continental Tire-scale entity.

The magazine noted Brunswick County’s quality of life with mention of its south-facing resort beaches and dozens of golf courses. It also underlined a comparatively low property tax rate, its position between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach and the local workforce training programs that are supposed to ensure that industrial employers “have no problem finding qualified workers.”

Because of the parks’ nearness to the Port of Wilmington, companies that locate there are eligible for state-administered “Port Enhancement Zone” job-creation tax incentives–of $2,000 per job created with an additional $1,000 per job for those employees who live within a 20-mile ring around the port.

“With this identification through CSX,” Bradshaw said Thursday, “and the fact that they will be promoting this throughout the country, we think we’ll have some great opportunities for even larger industries [than Continental] to look at us.”

(The International Logistics Park in December 2012 became a “North Carolina Certified Site” under the N.C. Department of Commerce — related story.)

Of the 12 sites CSX has certified to date, only one other is in North Carolina, being the Kingsboro-Rose land in Edgecombe County.

The others are in Georgia, Ohio (two sites), Indiana, Illinois (two sites), Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.