Around the region: jobs, Forbes magazine, park opening

Published 10:29 am Friday, July 8, 2011

Linamar bringing 363 jobs to Buncombe County
The Asheville area economy will get a boost when Linamar Corp. begins operations in the former Volvo Construction Equipment plant in Skyland later this year, replacing many of the jobs lost when Volvo shut down its operations there early last year.

Linamar, a manufacturer of parts for trucks and heavy equipment, is expected to create 363 jobs over the next four years, although Buncombe County officials said the number initially will be closer to 400, and could climb eventually to 800, along with many more indirect jobs, if the company expands over time.

The economic development project, considered one of the biggest in the county’s recent history, was facilitated by Buncombe County’s purchase of the former Volvo plant. Buncombe County commissioners recently voted to purchase the plant off Hendersonville Road for $7 million. Linamar plans to buy the building from the county, and begin moving in as soon as possible. The Canadian company said it aims to begin production in the facility by the end of November, and reach full speed by the end of 2012.

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Linamar plans to invest $125 million in the Skyland plant, which will produce axle parts for a Caterpillar plant now under construction in Winston Salem that will manufacturer large vehicles for mining. Linamar’s Skyland plant will also produce cylinder blocks, gears and driveline parts for the heavy duty industry. The company said it will invest an additional $45 million by 2020 if the market performs as expected.

Linamar, which has approximately 14,500 workers, plans to provide an annual average wage of $39,931 a year, not including benefits, for workers at the Skyland plant. The expected Linamar wage tops the Buncombe County average of $33,800.

Pulliam Properties is moving forward with a 284-unit apartment complex along Hendersonville Road in Asheville after dropping plans for an upscale 336-unit condominium complex in the same location.

Rusty Pulliam, head of Pulliam Properties, said his company, along with his partner Chip Kassinger of Kassinger Development Group near Charleston, S.C., received about 177 deposits for the condominiums. However, he said many of them came from investors who were not likely to proceed with the purchases after the real estate market soured during the recent recession.

Pulliam said he and Kassinger decided to switch the project to an apartment complex and they obtained nearly 70 signed leases in the first 40 days, and many more people have expressed interest.

Rents are expected to range from about $700 for a 543-square-foot studio to $1,550 for a 1,669-square-foot unit with three bedrooms. Pulliam said he expects the apartment complex, calledbWeirbridge Village, will draw interest from people who want to have a part-time home in the Asheville area, but don’t want to buy one at this time. He said his company and partner will keep open the option of selling the units as condos in the future.

The apartment complex will be located on a former 20-acre farm near the Crowfields and Deerfields developments. Grading work has begun already for the project, which is expected to be done by March of next year.

Raleigh is ranked No. 1 on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the Best Places for Business and Careers. The top of the list was dominated by many western cities, although others in North Carolina received high rankings, including Charlotte at number 22, Asheville at number 24 and Durham at number 31.

Atlanta was ranked 33rd on the list, which Forbes created after considering a dozen criteria, including educational attainment, cost of living, cost of doing business, income growth, projected economic growth, crime rates and cultural and recreational opportunities.

Greenville, S.C., came in at number 60 and Columbia was number 73, while Charleston was the highest-ranking city in South Carolina at number 40.

All Wachovia banks are expected to be rebranded to Wells Fargo by the middle of October 2011 as Wells Fargo & Co. completes one of the largest mergers in banking history.

Wells Fargo began in 2008 the merger with Wachovia, which has nearly 280,000 employees, including more than 32,800 in the Carolinas. Wachovia branches in South Carolina will be switched over to the Wells Fargo brand in September, followed by branches in North Carolina in October, according to Wells Fargo.

Wachovia has 37 branches in North Carolina with 26,800 team members and $45 billion in deposits. The bank has 147 branches in South Carolina with 6,000 team members and $11.7 billion in deposits.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. said it plans to buy Raleigh-based RBC Bank, which will make PNC the fifth largest among U.S. banks and give it a total of 2,870 branches.

Pittsburgh-based PNC said RBC will give it better access to the southeast markets. RBC has 424 branches and about $25 billion in assets. According to a Wall Street journal report, PNC beat out rival BB&T to acquire RBC.

Regional Management Corp. (RMC), based in Greenville, S.C., plans to offer up to $100 million in common stock in a proposed initial public offering (IPO).

The company, which provides installment loans, along with loans for automobile, furniture and appliance purchases, has 146 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Alabama. The company, founded in 1987, said it plans to open new branches in its current operating region and expand to new states.


Efforts to protect North Carolina’s commercial fishing industry and maintain public access to coastal waters appear to be producing positive results, according to state officials.

In 2006, when developers were still rapidly acquiring coastal property, the state legislature created a Waterfront Access Study Committee, which later provided several recommendations acted on by the legislature. The state agreed to create a $20 million fund to buy or improve public access, offer a tax break for traditional waterfront businesses and build ocean fishing piers. The first of three planned state aquarium-owned ocean piers is expected to be complete this year, along with two large public boat-launching facilities.

The $20 million fund has been used for 13 projects, including a rebuild of Jenette’s Pier in Nags Head, and traditional waterfront businesses are beginning to enjoy the tax break, which calculates local property taxes based on the current land use rather than the land’s likely higher market or development value.

The state is planning a study to see whether the tax break is helping preserve the state’s seafood operations. A 2007 study found that North Carolina had 95 fish houses, down from 136 just five years earlier.

In addition to the state’s efforts, programs such as community-supported fisheries have helped support North Carolina’s fishing industry in recent years. Consumers can obtain fish from local fisheries by purchasing shares in the fisheries.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities plans to build a 50,000-square-foot agricultural technology research center near Raleigh that will help develop new products, such as drought-resistant crops and medications.

The $13.5 million Alexandria Ag-Tech Center near Research Triangle Park is expected to draw more ag-tech companies to the state. The center also will lease space in an 18,000-square-foot greenhouse to new ag-tech startups. According to the state, North Carolina currently is home to more than 70 ag-tech companies, including Bayer CropScience and BASF.

The fourth annual Firefly Gathering, a summer camp for adults and children to explore ancestral skills, will take place July 14-17 at Camp Pinnacle in Henderson County.

Natalie Bogwalker, co-founder of the camp, said it gives participants a chance to connect to ancestors “in a way that is uber-sustainable.”

The camp offers more than 100 classes from instructors who are masters of various skills, such as woodcarving, fire building, tracking, trapping and primitive cooking. Organizers said they have seen a growing number of families attending the gathering, which offers both morning and afternoon sessions specifically designed for children. Bogwalker said more than 500 people are expected to attend the gathering, which she indicates a growing movement in the area of sustainable living.

Approximately 3,000 people gathered this week for the opening of the North Carolina Veterans Park in Fayetteville.

The $13 million park was first planned by state and local officials in the 1990s. U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) said the new park will be a “defining landmark in our state.”

The five-acre park includes an Oath of Service Wall with bronze hands, pools of water and a visitors center, highlighting the state’s military heritage from colonial times to present.

Vietnam veteran Bob Joyner, one of 100 veterans who had their hands cast for the Oath of Service Wall, said he was very impressed by the park, which opened with several speeches from state and local officials, music by the 82nd Airborne Division band and a flyover by the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro.