RED SPRINGS — The Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation is moving from its longtime corporate home in Red Springs to COMtech industrial park just outside of Pembroke, a decision that the Red Springs Board of Commissioners last week tried to stop.
While the electric utility contends it is a prudent business decision that will benefit all of its consumers in Robeson and the other three counties it serves, Red Springs officials passed a resolution requesting the Robeson County Board of Commissioners to immediately adopt a policy that prevents local money to be used as an incentive for “any institutional, industrial or commercial enterprise” to relocate from one municipal jurisdiction to another, or to the unincorporated areas of the county.”
COMtech is partly supported with taxpayer dollars provided by the county.
LREMC’s headquarters has been located at 605 E. Fourth St. in Red Springs since it was built in the late 1940s. It employs, according to its website, 118 people, and Red Springs officials worry about the blow to local commerce when those people buy lunch, gasoline and shop elsewhere.
Red Springs Mayor John McNeill called the town’s decision to adopt the resolution as nothing but “good business.”
McNeill says the town will ask other municipalities to adopt a similar resolution, saying their businesses could also be targeted.
Commissioner Roger Oxendine, who is chairman of LREC’s board of directors, said the company will purchase 30 acres from along N.C. 711 at a discounted price. Oxendine declined to comment on the price the company will pay for the land, but said the land is the only incentive that has been offered by the county to encourage LREMC to remain in business within its jurisdiction.
“This is the same thing we would do for any other business that would come to the county for similar assistance,” he said.
Oxendine said that LREMC looked at five sites, four in Red Springs and one at COMtech. The site at COMtech was selected because it is more centrally located for the utility’s service area, Oxendine said. The southern part of the company’s service area, including Marietta, Orrum and Gaddys, could be more easily served, he said.
Oxendine said that all of the company’s operations and equipment will be moved out of Red Springs and relocated at COMtech. He said he anticipates the new facility could be up and running in about 18 months.
Ricky Harris, Robeson County’s manager and a member of the COMtech board of directors, said that the only request from the company has been for the sale of property. The COMtech board will make the decision on the sale and price of the land, which will require no action from the county commissioners.
Harris said that the new LREMC facility could result in an addition to the county’s tax base of $13 million to $15 million, and pointed out that taxes would continue to be paid on the old Red Springs office. LREMC pays the county and Red Springs taxes on their buildings and equipment based on a formula provided by the state.
Alan Fowlkes, COMtech’s executive director, said that the location of LREMC at COMtech would be a boost for the park.
“This is huge for COMtech,” he said. “Things slowed down during the recession … . This could help us get started again.”
Fowlkes said it’s unclear which property the company will purchase.
“The DOT (Department of Transportation) is looking at appropriate access to property,” he said. “That could determine the property the company purchases.”
Oxendine spoke out strongly against the resolution approved by Red Springs officials. He said that he does not think it will muster support from the eight county commissioners. Commissioners Raymond Cummings and Noah Woods represent parts of Red Springs.
“I don’t agree with it,” Oxendine said. “The county is pro-industry. Our job is to help maintain existing industry as well as bring new industry into the county.”
The commissioner said that he hopes other municipalities in the county would not fall in line with Red Springs in regards to passing similar resolutions condemning the use of county incentives to help maintain and grow an industry.
“I would hope they would keep a hands-off approach,” he said. “I think this is a bad gesture to handcuff the county in its efforts to help existing or new industries.
“I’m very disappointed with the action of Red Springs against an industry that has been in the county 75 years,” said Oxendine. “All we are doing is looking after our consumers.”
LREMC is a member-owned not-for-profit utility that serves more than 58,000 people in Robeson, Scotland, Hoke and Cumberland counties.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.