Artist's rendering show the planned entrance and training area of the planned expanded Glen Raven Custom Fabrics plant in Norlina in Warren County. Image courtesy of Glen Raven.

An expanded 315,000-square-foot, yarn-spinning plant that Glen Raven Custom Fabrics recently announced in Warren County is expected to bring more than 200 jobs, potentially changing the trajectory of a county with a history of low economic numbers.

Glen Raven, an international fabrics manufacturer based in the Alamance County town of Glen Raven, announced plans July 21 to expand its operation in Warren County, saying the new facility will be up and running by January 2023. The facility, on U.S. 1 in the town of Norlina, is expected to represent an $82 million investment from the company. 

The manufacturer is expected to more than double its current staff of 160, by adding 205 jobs and expanding the existing 190,000-square-foot facility. The new jobs will bring more than $6.5 million in salaries, with the average salary of $31,710 exceeding the county’s median and average incomes, according to Glen Raven.

“This project is a trajectory changer for Warren County,” County Manager Vincent Jones said. “Glen Raven has recognized the value in Warren County, the workforce we can attract and how that will positively impact their bottom line.”

According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, Warren County’s average salary is $30,494, and the median salary is $26,155. Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, Warren has the third-lowest average salary, ahead of only Swain and Pamlico counties. 

Based on Warren County’s economic development and lower average salary compared to other counties, the Department of Commerce designated it a Tier 1 county. The 40 most economically distressed counties are labeled Tier 1 counties, according to the department’s website.

State funding assistance

In addition to the capital investment from Glen Raven, the Department of Commerce awarded the company a $1 million performance-based grant from the One North Carolina Fund.  The grants provide assistance to local governments and help them attract economic investment. 

However, no money is awarded upfront. Instead, the company must meet a series of benchmarks around job creation and capital investments, according to the Department of Commerce. If Glen Raven fails to meet the benchmarks, the received amount must be paid back.

The funding is disbursed in 25% increments tied to job creation. For example, once Glen Raven has created the first 51 new jobs, or about 25% of the promised total, it will be eligible to receive 25% of the grant. The pattern continues until 100% of the jobs have been created, if the company meets the benchmarks.

To retain the OneNC Fund grant, North Carolina statute requires that the company maintain at least 90% of the jobs for a period of up to two years after the grant’s end date. 

The Warren County Economic Development Commission, the county manager’s office and the county tax administrator will be responsible for ensuring that Glen Raven meets its proposed goals, said Charla Duncan, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

The plan is to have more than 50% of the new positions filled by December 2022, said Dave Swers, president and COO at Glen Raven Custom Fabrics. The company plans to start hiring in the second half of 2022.

Matching jobs to people

The company did not disclose the rest of the proposed hiring goals, except that it will continue to hire locally. Currently, 75% of employees at the Norlina facility reside in Warren County. The majority of Warren County is Black, and Swers said the company intends to focus on diverse hiring.

“Our future operations will seek to recruit employees in and around the local community and will certainly reflect an emphasis on diversity and inclusion,” Swers said. 

“Diversity of race, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background, among other factors, are critical to achieve a strong workforce. We recently set a new goal to increase diversity in leadership by 20% by 2025 with a focus on increasing the number of women among first-line supervisors by 25% by 2025.” 

One North Carolina Fund track record

The One North Carolina Fund has had mixed results, with some companies failing to meet proposed goals and being forced to return the funds or never receiving them.

According to a 2020 Economic Development Grant Report prepared by the state Department of Commerce, the department has awarded 570 grants since January 2007.

Of those, 106 are currently active, 221 have closed with funds disbursed, and 243 have closed with no funds disbursed. 

Of the 221 that closed with funds disbursed, 20 recipients have had to pay back the received amount for failing to meet their proposed goals, according to a March clawback report from the Commerce Department.

The county matches funding

As part of the OneNC Fund, the local government has to provide an incentive to match the OneNC Fund grant. The matching is not always a one-to-one dollar match but is based on the county’s tier designation from the Department of Commerce, according to the department’s website.

As a Tier 1 county, the local government has to provide no less than $1 for every $3 provided by the OneNC Fund. In this case, the county has to provide a minimum financial incentive of $333,333 to Glen Raven. 

Warren County’s incentives will be a combination of 10 annually awarded performance-based grants in the form of a tax break and a fee waiver of up to $150,000 in county building and inspection fees, Duncan said.

In a given year, the performance grants will be equal to 60% of the annual tax liability based on the worth of the company’s real property, such as land and buildings, and personal property, such as machinery or equipment.

According to Duncan, the grant will fluctuate from year to year as the company adds buildings and personal property depreciates over time. For example, in 2022 it is estimated that Glen Raven will owe the county $257,904 in taxes without the grant. 

The grant would cover 60%, or $154,742, meaning Glen Raven will only pay $103,162. Over the course of 10 years, Duncan estimated that the county will award about $3.2 million in grants and collect $2.2 million.

“This is a big deal for us,” said Duncan.

“We have a lot of our workforce that commutes out to our neighboring counties, but to be able to provide a salary job with … professional security is certainly something that we’re really, really grateful for.”

With the decrease in a commuting workforce, Duncan believes that the expansion will also help promote developments in the county’s housing sector. With less commuting and more competitive salaries, residents are more likely to stay in the county, purchase homes and at the same time attract outsiders.

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Arturo Pineda is a former reporter with Carolina Public Press and Report for America fellow.