Conover commits money for job development

Conover moved forward this week with financial commitments that may help create nearly 100 new jobs in the next several years. In exchange, the city will spend up to $181,000 of its money and a $750,000 grant on economic development projects at LEE Industries Inc. and Dalco Nonwovens.

Conover City Council approved contracts Tuesday night to provide tax incentives and a lighting upgrade to Dalco Nonwovens for its manufacturing facility expansion. The council also finalized agreements to provide Newton-based LEE Industries with a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and incentives for the company’s planned $2.5 million renovation of the old Conover Chair Facility at 210 Fourth St. NW near downtown.

“Conover’s focus for the last 30 years has been on those small, local-owned companies, less than 200 employees,” City Manager Donald Duncan said at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “When it boils down to it, these folks have an investment in our community. They live here, go to church here, participate in civic organizations, whereas the large corporations are not.”

This CDBG grant is designed for restoring older manufacturing properties and putting them back into use, Duncan said.

LEE, which manufactures upholstery and employs 490 people at three Newton facilities, had to commit to bring 38 new jobs to Conover to receive the $750,000 grant — in the form of a forgivable five-year loan —that the city secured from the N.C. Department of Commerce. LEE has committed to creating at least 75 new positions in the area in the next several years, said Bill McKinney, the company’s chief financial officer.

“It could be more than that,” McKinney said. “Renovation is in the planning stages. We’re hoping to break ground and start demolition in six weeks or so. Fall of 2012 or so, we’d like to be shipping product out of the building in Conover.”

If LEE doesn’t reach its jobs requirement, the company must pay back the loan money with interest penalties.

Conover’s city council also approved a plan to spend $30,000 to pay a grant administrator through the Western Piedmont Council of Governments; $89,000 for an economic incentive to LEE for back taxes the company is paying on the Fourth Street property; and $7,500 for right-of-way improvements at the site.

“That’s probably some of the best money we’ve spent this year,” Councilman Joie Fulbright said Tuesday night.

Duncan said the $7,500 is money well spent for the city.

“We’ll use that to create a clear view at the property,” he said. “It’s a pretty congested intersection and we want to make sure this is done properly. We want control of that corner, if we need to make traffic improvements in the future.”

The city council also finalized and approved the contract Tuesday night to provide two years of tax incentives totaling a maximum of $36,000 to Dalco Nonwovens for its facility expansion at 2050 Evergreen Drive NE.
Dalco, which manufactures nonwoven textiles for automotive, landfill and furniture applications, plans to invest at least $9 million into the renovation and equipment.

To receive the city’s incentives, the company must also meet its commitments to retain 30 employees and create 19 new jobs. All new jobs, existing jobs and investments must be maintained through Dec. 31, 2018.

Council members also voted to install and maintain eight new street lights in front of the Dalco site, which will cost the city $18,527 over the next three years.

“Those lights are higher grade for trucks and employees to get in and out,” Duncan said.