Cover Story: Economic incentives lure

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - In 2006, Rowan County gave PGT Industries tax incentives to move its plant to Salisbury.  It seemed like a good fit.  Last April, the window maker said it was going to add 100 new jobs.

Now we've learned another county in another state has now offered PGT bigger incentives so the company is packing up leaving 500 North Carolina workers out in the cold.

The move is leaving a bad taste many people's mouths.

It's a tragic example, critics say, of a bad system of government getting in a bidding war - throwing money at companies.

There were lines of people last April when window maker PGT Industries hung out the hiring sign.  And hopes for full-time work were riding high.

"I'm currently employed but it's like part time and it's not been meeting up with the means of living as far as living, bills, kids expenses things like that I feel like if I came out here another opportunity," said job seeker Demeterius Brown last spring.

Now eight months later winter's chill and a harsh reality setting in - PGT intends to leave.

"It did come out of nowhere. I don't know that anybody knew it."

In 2006, Rowan county offered PGT tax breaks to leave Davidson county.  Now four years later Florida reportedly has offered $1 million for PGT to come south.

Did they take the money and run?

We asked Carl Ford chairman of the Rowan county commission.  "People were employed for four years," he said.  "We got tax money out of it.. more than we'd given them. But you still feel like it's a slap in the face.. you still feel like yes they have."

But PGT's not to the first to feast at the incentives trough, according to critics.

In one of the most celebrated cases Dell Computers quit Winston-Salem after North Carolina used $240 million worth of incentives to come to here.

The North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law has sued the state over incentives given to Dell and Google but has yet to win a case.

Former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr heads the Institute and says what PGT's done shouldn't surprise us.

"Don't be shocked and dismayed if somebody offers them a little more love and a little more caring somewhere else or woos them away. It's how the game is played and that's why the game needs to be changed," said Orr.

But how do you put the genie back in the bottle when no government wants to blink first and companies have come to expect the tax breaks.

In Rowan county today county commissioners voted to approve economic incentives for Tuscarora Yarns to expand their plant in China Grove.

"It's a vicious cycle. It's almost like you can't win. But if you get jobs you get people employed you feel like you've won," said commissioner Ford.

PGT has received from Rowan county $162,000, which is short of the promised total of $600,000 they would have gotten for five years.

They were due to receive another payment today.  Said one county commissioner he doesn't think they're going to get that.

The plant will begin laying off its 490 workers in mid-January.  They layoffs are expected to end June 30.  The company is offering workers here jobs in Venice, Florida where its headquarters are located.

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