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At Annual Conference, Economic Developers Say CCX Talks Are Ongoing

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jun 13, 2018
Economic developers and officials with the state are still in talks with CSX over what to do with a 700-acre site in Rocky Mount that was planned in 2016 for an intermodal facility, said Norris Tolson, CEO and president of Carolinas Gateway Partnership, at an annual economic development conference Wednesday.

The N.C. Economic Development Association's annual conference started Tuesday, bringing together those in the state and international economic development community to Wrightsville Beach for the three-day event.

Tolson, leader of the a public-private industrial recruitment agency focused economic development for Nash and Edgecombe counties, was one of several presenters Wednesday who shared updates on economic development efforts happening across the state. His presentation focused on an update to the Carolina Connector (CCX), a project that was planned as an intermodal facility in Rocky Mount by Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX.

The more than $270 million infrastructure project was anticipated to have had a direct impact on state jobs and on cargo traffic through the Port of Wilmington. 

But that project through the company has yet to take shape in the state. And the plan might end up being to do something a little different with the land, Tolson said.

He said state and economic developers are still in "heavy negotiations" with CSX over what will happen with the 700 acres of land owned by CSX in Edgecombe County. 

He and other economic developers, along with CSX, announced the CCX project in July 2016 and at the time, CSX leaders were looking into the intermodal process, he said.

But when a change happened in CSX leadership last year, the business model also changed, he said. That change left the future of CCX project unclear

"A new leadership team came in ... The new leader did not care for the wheel and spoke or the intermodal concept. So while he did not cancel the CCX project in Rocky Mount, it obviously went on their back burner for thinking purposes," Tolson said of the project.

Former CEO Hunter Harrison, who died late last year, and current CSX President and CEO James Foote, had repositioned their business model to turn the focus away from the intermodal concept and shift to what Tolson called "precision railroading."

While the project in Rocky Mount was never officially killed, Tolson said that economic developers began "extensive discussions with the CSX leadership team over what they were going to do with the land," he said, adding that if they weren't going to put anything on the property economic developers in the county would like CSX to allow them to put it into the potential development inventory as another 700-acre megasite.

"Even up until yesterday, we were still in the discussions with DOT in Raleigh and CSX in Jacksonville about what their ultimate facility will look like," Tolson said.

Tolson did not elaborate further on the topic, only saying,"We are very confident that we will wind up with some kind of precision delivery facility ... in Rocky Mount on the land that CSX owns and the remaining piece of the land, whatever they choose not to use ... I have been pushing them to allow us to put it into our inventory and go find them a client, which we think we can do," he said.

The impact that economic developers have seen in Edgecombe and Nash counties since the CCX announcement, however, has drawn more business interest to the area, he said. 

The call volume of Carolinas Gateway Partnership went up 100 percent in a matter of a weeks from the initial announcement from "all over the country," Tolson said. The organization's project base went from a little more than 20 projects at the time to 64 in Nash and Edgecombe counties today, he said. 

"We have spent a lot of time since July of 2016 to ... position ourselves on the map with people not only in the U.S. but globally. And that's paid off," he said. "We attribute 80 percent of that growth interest to CSX. And I told CSX that, in fact I used that as a selling point as I called on them in Jacksonville to say, 'You really still need to build some kind of a logistics facility.'"

N.C. Ports Executive Director Paul Cozza has previously commented on the CCX project, saying that, N.C. Ports views intermodal capability as a key feature of moving freight – efficiently transferring containers between trains and trucks – and providing a “competitive advantage” to customers.

CSX officials confirmed Wednesday that talks are ongoing.

“We remain in discussion with the state of North Carolina about the proposed facility in Rocky Mount with an eye toward what works best for our company, our shareholders and the state of North Carolina,” a CSX spokesman said. “We appreciate the partnership we have developed and look forward to continuing the dialogue about our plans moving forward.”

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