09/13/07 — Senator defends incentive package

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Senator defends incentive package

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 13, 2007 2:04 PM

For state Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, one simple fact made his decision to vote for the legislature's compromise incentive package a little bit easier Tuesday -- more than 300 of his constituents work at the Bridgestone Firestone plant in Wilson.

The original legislation, which was vetoed by Gov. Mike Easley, would have given Goodyear Tire & Rubber as much as $40 million in incentives to remain in Fayetteville.

Faced with the prospect of either overriding Easley's veto or hammering out some sort of agreement, lawmakers opted for a compromise that includes Goodyear rival, Bridgestone. The two companies could eventually split $60 million over the next 10 years.

To qualify for the funding, they will be required to maintain their workforce, invest $200 million over a six-year period and pay an average wage of at least 140 percent of the county average to both employees and contractors. They also must provide health benefits to both.

The incentive money will come from several sources, including a 95 percent refund of sales tax paid on new equipment, building materials and energy. The companies also will receive back a portion of income taxes, as well as worker training and permitting fees.

Currently Bridgestone employs 2,200 full-time and contract workers, paying an average of $55,000, plus up to an additional $30,000 in benefits.

In 2006, in order to receive an $800,000 local incentive package, it promised to invest $250,000 in the community over the next 10 years.

According to Kerr, of the company's 2,200 employees, more than 225 are from Wayne County, while another 110 hail from Pitt and Greene counties.

"I was concerned about this, but what really changed my mind is the number of employees from my district with these good paying jobs," he said. "And I just thought it was a good idea to keep those jobs."

Also voting for the bill were Reps. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, Larry Bell, D-Sampson and Van Braxton, D-Lenoir. Sen. Fred Smith, R-Johnston, voted against the proposal.