There have been lots of swings and misses by economic development recruiters in Robeson County in recent years,
but this week the bat met ball, and the subsequent grand slam is certainly worth celebrating.
Steven Roberts Original Desserts and Ticklebelly Desserts, which is based in Denver, Colo., announced on Tuesday during a press conference at COMtech that it would be making its desserts in Pembroke, and plans to hire during the next three years about 350 people to do the work. The jobs pay a decent wage for this county, averaging about $11 an hour.
When it comes to economic recruitment, Robeson County has plenty to offer — major highways, temperate climate, low cost of living, cheap land, abundance of water, good location, a hospital, state park, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Robeson Community College, and recreational opportunities — but in recent years we have been unable to separate ourselves from other pursuers for major projects in an environment that has become highly competitive because of double-digit unemployment across the country and this state.
The shoe fit this time because of an abandoned plant in Pembroke, which was one of just five identified on the East Coast as having the freezer and the oven that the Denver company needed to make its sweets. That got Robeson County close to the finish line, and incentives, both locally and from the state, and a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach pushed us to a brighter future. We know that Greg Cummings, the head of economic development efforts for the county, continued to push for the project even when it appeared the company was destined elsewhere.
We call Steven Roberts Original Desserts and Ticklebelly Desserts’ decision to come to Pembroke and Robeson County a grand slam because of the number of jobs, the $23,000 average salary workers will be paid and the local investment that will provide some property tax relief. Company officials are saying even more jobs than the promised 342 are possible down the road.
That number of jobs will take one out of 20 people in this county who are jobless out of the unemployment line, and put a noticeable dent into our 12.3 percent unemployment rank, which ranks 22nd highest in the state. That number of people producing and paying taxes, instead of sitting at home and waiting on a check, will produce more than an economic ripple. It will be tsunami-like.
For the economic officials who made this happen, congratulations on this success. But now is no time to rest. There are still 5,500 Robesonians who are looking for work.