Drowned out by all the noise at the county Board of Commissioners on Monday was a bit of good news — that the county might be on the verge of landing an industry that would bring almost 80 decent-paying jobs.
It is disappointing that the conversation has continued about the commissioners’ discretionary funds, pay and benefits, but it’s their inaction almost four months after County Manager Ricky Harris turned over the findings of his study that has kept this page from being turned. That will only happen when the commissioners do the noble thing, and compensate themselves in line with their peers across the state and add accountability to the way they dispense your money through their discretionary funds.
So buried deep in our story about Monday’s meeting were a few paragraphs about Project 77, the code name for an effort by the county to bring an industry that would land between Lumberton and Pembroke, and create 77 jobs with an average wage of $12.30 an hour. The commissioners on Monday approved an incentives package with tax relief that is being dangled to get the coveted commitment.
Privately, county officials are optimistic. We know enough to tell you that if the industry comes to Robeson County, there will be a $5 million capital investment, and the industry will become a buyer of product that can be produced locally, so the economic benefit would not be limited to those who find employment there.
It would be a welcome bit of economic news in Robeson County, which has suffered more than most — before, during and after what is now being called the Great Recession.
Things could be getting more challenging for the county.
The Republicans are firmly in control of this state’s government, with Pat McCrory in the Executive Mansion and substantial majorities in both legislative chambers, and it’s clear that their governance will be much different than that of the Democrats. The Republicans are adamant that they will return fiscal sanity to the state with a pay-as-we-go approach, and they want a government that rewards and encourages hard work, not idleness and entitlement. They believe tax relief is the way to bring new jobs to this state — and to wean people from welfare, which they see as a temporary state, not a life sentence.
Robeson County, with a third of the population on food stamps and an unemployment rate among the worst in the state, will be a canary in the mine. This is the new reality — and our county will encounter it without a single legislator in Raleigh with an “R” beside his name.
Jobs will be the antidote; 77 is a start, but there are thousands more in this county who need work, and all that comes with it, including a wage to live on and the dignity that being a provider provides.