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Hey, Mecklenburg County: You snooze, you lose. Gaston County has taken center stage as the possible site of a detention center for illegal immigrants after the project’s main proponent, Rep. Sue Myrick, announced that “insurmountable obstacles” were dragging out the process in her home county.

So what, exactly, has neighboring Gaston won? A chance at hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in federal money, if other centers are anything to go by. In return for building and running the 1,500-bed center, Gaston would be reimbursed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for housing undocumented aliens detained all over the South. The nearest of the agency’s 16 centers is in Lumpkin, Ga. Though it’s early in the project and no details have been set, other communities have grossed $78 to $130 per person per night. A 2,000-bed center, about 500 beds bigger than the one proposed for Gaston County, brought in $954,000 its first year to the Texas community that hosted it, according to Willacy County Treasurer Ruben Cavazos.

The project also would mean jobs — between 300 and 400 based on its size — and not just for guards. Because centers are supposed to be self-contained, they employ doctors, nurses and clerical staff. It would be a welcome development for the county, which has lost more than 8,000 textile jobs in the past 10 years. “Any time you can bring in a potential of 400-plus jobs to the county, that’s got to be a good thing for the economy,” says Chief Deputy Tim Farris of the Gaston County Sheriff’s Department, which would run the center. But the centers can come with some unforeseen costs. Though Willacy County used a bond to pay the $60 million construction tab, it fell behind on payments when the number of detainees dropped by an average of 500 a day.

And the “insurmountable obstacles”? Providing a place to lock up illegals plays much better in Gaston, where Myrick’s fellow Republicans have taken a tough stance, denying illegal immigrants public services and refusing to do business with companies that hire or support them. The drawn-out controversy over replacing Mecklenburg’s sheriff also made her camp leery. “The current presidential administration is in favor of the project,” spokesman Andy Polk says. “But with the elections coming up, we’re not sure which choices the next administration will make. Our take on that is that we might have a limited amount of time.”

MONROE - Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System hired Michael Lutes, 36, as president and CEO of its Carolinas Medical Center-Union hospital. Lutes is the former CEO of Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in West Virginia. He replaces interim CEO John Sullivan, who took over in July.

HICKORY - Nissan Joseph, 43, resigned as CEO of Hickory Brands, which makes shoe polish, cleats, insoles and laces. He took a job as chief operating officer of Birmingham, Ala.-based sporting-goods retailer Hibbett Sports. Hickory Brands, which has about 90 employees, hadn’t named a successor.

CHARLOTTE - Cogdell Spencer, a real-estate investment trust, agreed to pay $247 million for Madison, Wis.-based Marshall Erdman and Associates, which specializes in the planning, design and construction of health-care buildings. The trans-action was scheduled to close by the end of February. Erdman will keep its name and become a subsidiary of Cogdell Spencer.

GASTONIA - Parkdale Mills purchased Rio Rancho, N.M.-based US Cotton, which makes private-label cotton balls, pads and other products at factories in Charlotte, Cleveland, Montreal and Rio Rancho. Terms were not disclosed.

CHARLOTTE - Gainesville, Fla.-based medical-device maker Exactech acquired Altiva, which makes spinal implants and related products, for $25 million. Altiva will operate as a subsidiary of Exactech and plans to add five workers this year to bring employment to 18. It had revenue of about $13 million in 2007 and expects to become profitable in 2008.

CHARLOTTE - Le Sueur, Minn.-based Cambria, which makes quartz countertops, flooring and other products, opened a factory that will employ about 80 here. The company says it spent $4 million on the plant.

CONCORD - Speedway Motorsports plans to complete construction of its $60 million drag strip near Lowe’s Motor Speedway here in time for a National Hot Rod Association event Sept. 11-14. The drag strip was a source of controversy between Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith (“Old and in the Sway,” January) and Concord officials, who balked at its construction because of noise concerns but relented after Smith threatened to move the speedway.

CHARLOTTE - Nexxus Lighting, which uses light-emitting diodes to make traffic lights, electronic signs and other products, agreed to buy Maple Grove, Minn.-based Lumificient, which makes LEDs. Terms of the sale, expected to close by the end of April, were not announced.

CHARLOTTE - Knoxville, Tenn.-based Regal Entertainment Group, which owns and operates movie theaters, plans to purchase competitor Consolidated Theatres for $210 million. The sale, scheduled to close in the first half of the year, will add 28 theaters with 400 screens to Regal’s 6,355 screens in 526 locations.

CHARLOTTE - Saying that it wants to diversify, Lance purchased a minority stake in Hyannis, Mass.-based Late July Snacks. Late July makes organic versions of crackers, sandwich cookies and other snacks. Lance also started making lower-fat versions of some of its snacks.

CHARLOTTE - Johnson C. Smith University named Ron Carter, 59, to succeed Dorothy Cowser Yancy, 63, as president, effective July 1. Yancy, who has led the school since 1994, announced last year that she would retire June 30. Carter, a High Point native, has been provost and chief operating officer at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.

CHARLOTTE - Goodrich purchased Fort Worth, Texas-based Skyline Industries, which makes military helicopter seats and armor. Terms weren’t disclosed. Skyline and its 40 employees will become part of the aerospace manufacturer’s Interiors division, which makes lighting, life rafts and other products.

CHARLOTTE - Chelsea Therapeutics is in the middle of second-stage clinical testing on a drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis. The three-month test of CH-1504 is scheduled to end in April. Chelsea believes its drug is as effective as existing treatments and has fewer side effects.