Incentive Packages Clear Local Hurdles

By Johanna F. Still, posted Mar 2, 2022
Wilmington City Council approved committing to nearly $700,000 in economic development incentives Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the city of Wilmington)

Wilmington City Council committed nearly $700,000 as part of four separate incentive packages at its regular meeting Tuesday. 

After an administrative hiccup, council made the approval two weeks later than originally intended, agreeing to pay the four companies when performance goals are met over a five-year period. 

The city’s OK comes following New Hanover County’s approval of a different funding packaging for the same undisclosed companies on Feb. 21. With the county’s $1.2 million performance-based allotments, the companies are eligible to receive up to $2.6 million combined from both governments if each meets certain targets. 

Even more funds could be forthcoming from the N.C. Department of Commerce. Though the state has declined to acknowledge its involvement in the projects thus far, local officials say the department is reviewing the companies’ proposals.

Any reveal on the companies’ identities will depend on the businesses and state, officials said Tuesday. Projects Speed, Transit, Clear and Buckeye are expected to create up to 1,064 new jobs, $110 million in payroll expenses and $125 million in capital investments. Each proposal is unrelated; their simultaneous timing was the result of luck and hard work, Wilmington Business Development (WBD) CEO Scott Satterfield told commissioners on Feb. 21. 

Satterfield gave largely the same presentation to council Tuesday as he did to commissioners last month. 

He offered a few new or expanded details:

  • Project Transit, a local company with a presence in other states, could locate in myriad locations across the country, Satterfield said. Of the 300 new jobs the company plans to create, many will be sales, “of which they plan to make local hires,” he said. 

  • Project Buckeye, a well-known local fintech company that plans to beef up hiring this year, will soon begin construction on a new taxable asset, he said. 

  • Project Speed (the only new company to the region among the proposals) plans to introduce 120,000 square feet of cross-dock and warehouse space in the city of Wilmington and would  support the Port of Wilmington.

  • Project Clear is an “energy company” with a decades-long legacy in the region. The company has considered making its expansionary investment elsewhere across the country, Satterfield said. “Incumbent labor, licensing, safety and knowledge of the existing site are among the key advantages for Wilmington,” he said.

“We’re not dependent on any one particular sector,” Satterfield said. “And what we’re bringing you here tonight helps us make sure we’re buoying in challenging times. Because the sun ain't always going to shine on us every day – let’s be real.”

Wilmington regularly competes with Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville to land expansions or new companies that seek high quality-of-life indicators, Satterfield said. Post-pandemic, “Every community is going to be fighting for economic opportunity; it’s not going to be easy,” he said. 

Councilman Kevin Spears said he hoped the companies would help provide economic advancement opportunities to the city’s underserved communities. “We want to be in the business of giving people an opportunity to change their lives,” he said.

Mayor Bill Saffo, who serves on the WBD board of directors, complimented Satterfield and his team’s work bringing the proposals forward. “Your group has done an outstanding job,” Saffo said. “The investment that we have made in your organization has paid dividends for many years."

Councilwoman Margaret Haynes, following up on a critique previously lodged by former councilman Kevin O’Grady, asked Satterfield to discuss salary ranges rather than averages. O’Grady had submitted a public comment at council’s last meeting, asserting the city was not following its own protocols it imposed during the National Gypsum incentive approval process. 

Satterfield said the bulk of the positions would fall in the average salary ranges disclosed and aren't top-level management-heavy rosters. “To the best of our knowledge, there’s not three or four great big numbers that will skew the number … up in that way," he said. "There are a variety of positions there across the board."

Read more about the incentive process in the March 3 issue of Greater Wilmington Business Journal. ​

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