ST. PAULS - By this summer, poultry producer SandersonFarms Inc.planstostartconstructing a processing plant that will employ 1,100 workers on the outskirts of this Robeson County town.
"I think it's probably one of the best things we've had in 30 years," St. Pauls Mayor Gordon "Buddy" Westbrook said. "We need the project. We need the jobs, so it's great."
Westbrook was among about 100 officials gathered to celebrate the news at Robeson Community College. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's office made the announcement Thursday morning in a news release, calling the project "a game changer."
In a separate release, the Mississippi-based company said it will build a "state-of-the-art poultry complex" that includes a facility to treat plant wastewater in an industrial park on the outskirts of St. Pauls, a town of 2,250 residents.
A 150-acre portion of the industrial park on the north side of N.C. 20 has been annexed into the town, and the private land will be sold to Sanderson Farms, Westbrook said. The company's spray fields will be around the industrial park, which is 1.5 miles west of Interstate 95.
The company said it hopes to begin initial operations by the last three months of 2016 and eventually employ 1,100 workers within three years. It will process 1.25 million birds a week and require 100 contract growers. The company didn't say where the chicken farms would go.
The state Commerce Department says the average annual pay for all the jobs, including line workers, supervisors and maintenance technicians, will be nearly $28,000.
Most of the $139 million planned investment will be on building the processing center and a hatchery in St. Pauls, but some of the investment includes upgrades to its feed mill in Kinston where it operates a processing center.
Sanderson Farms, with almost $2.7 billion in annual sales, is the No. 3 U.S.poultryproducer.
In February, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners and the St. Pauls towncommissionersapprovedincentivesoffersfor"Project Apple," which Westbrook confirmed was Sanderson Farms. He said the town board would need to hold another public hearing and vote again on the incentives at a future meeting.
The town administrator, J.R. Steigerwald, said the town would grant back to Sanderson Farms 50 percent of its property taxes paid over 10 years -anestimatedincentivesvalueof$2.5 million.
The town's general-fund budget is $2.2 million this year.
Robeson County Manager Ricky Harris could not be reached Thursday afternoon to comment on the county incentives.
Cumberland County interest
The company had been courted by the Fayetteville City Council and the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners,whichapprovedincentivespackageslastmonth intended to lure the project to the county's empty Cedar Creek industrial park. Several hundred residents, however, opposed the project in Cedar Creek over fears of truck traffic, potential odors and environmental concerns related to the use of nearby spray fields of chicken plant wastewater.
Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson, who was hoping to luretheprojecttoFayetteville, said the announcement did not surprise him. He said Sanderson Farms is "an outstanding company."
"We're going to continue to work with the governor's office and stateeconomicdevelopmentfolksintryingtobuild this region and bring more jobs to Fayetteville."
Kenneth Edge, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, said Sanderson Farms would serve as a regional employer, like the Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant on Ramsey Street does.
Edge and the board's vice chairman, Marshall Faircloth, were opposed to having the plant in Cedar Creek.
"My only concern is that they don't pollute any waterways and that we don't have any chicken houses in Cumberland County as a result," Faircloth said.
In his statement, McCrory said Sanderson Farms will have a big impact on the Robeson County economy. The county's jobless rate, not seasonally adjusted, was 7.6 percent in December, based on the most recent figures. The statewide unemployment rate in December was 5.2 percent.
McCrory's office said Sanderson Farms willbenefitbyagrant of up to $1 million from the One North Carolina Fund if the company meets its job creation and investment goals. The grant is contingent on local tax incentives being spent as well.
In a statement, state Sen. Jane W. Smith, a Lumberton Democrat, said the job creation will mean more work for families and will generate more spending and help local businesses.
Robeson County's industrial recruiter, Greg Cummings, said Sanderson Farms is one of the largest companies the county has landed in more than 30 years. He said St. Pauls had water and other infrastructure needed by the company.
Cummings isn't sure where all of the chicken farms will go.
"From what I can gather, they're going to have some growers and give them an opportunity, but a lot of the chickens are goingtobe raised over inthesurrounding counties," he said.
Joe F. Sanderson, chairman and chief executive officer of Sanderson Farms, said in a statement the additional processing capacity with the plant in Robeson County "will provide new marketing opportunities for the company in the fresh food service market."
In his statement, Sanderson thanked public officials in Cumberland County and Fayetteville "for the vote of confidence in our company....However, we have decided, at this time, to pursue the opportunity in St. Pauls and Robeson County."
The Fayetteville Regional Chamber, whose board of directors endorsed the project, said in a statement chamber officials were disappointed by the announcement.
"While these jobs will not be here, we are pleased they will remain in our region and will be of benefit to the overall economic growth of southeastern North Carolina," the chamber said.
Staff writer Andrew Barksdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3565. Staff writer Nathan Hardin can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3509.