Ten months after a Greek company announced it would build one of the nation’s biggest cement plants just north of Wilmington, not a shovel has turned but a lot has been churned up. The last election saw a county commissioner who supported the plant go down in defeat, two of its foes elected and a state senator at risk of losing her seat keep it after blasting Titan Group’s project in Castle Hayne.
The plant and a limestone quarry on 1,868 acres will produce more than 2.3 million tons of concrete a year along the Northeast Cape Fear River — and receive $4.5 million in county and state incentives. Prominent environmental groups have joined the fight amid fears the plant will emit mercury and other pollutants into the air, soil and water. But the big issue, some believe, isn’t the plant. It’s the economic future of the Cape Fear region. Will it be driven more by brains or brawn? “If we’re going to spend money on incentives, let’s get industries of the 21st century, not the 18th century,” says Joel Bourne, president of Stop Titan, a group that claims more than 3,000 supporters.
That’s what some local leaders have been trying to do, but it hasn’t been easy. New Hanover County’s long, sandy shore draws hordes of tourists, but that isn’t always enough to lure top talent. GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy, for example, said last year that it would add 900 workers to its Wilmington plant, but it has struggled to attract nuclear engineers. The Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce recently launched a task force to shift the region’s economic base from manufacturing to knowledge-based employment. It hired Creative Class Group, a Toronto-based consultant, to explore how to make the region more appealing.
Titan supporters include county commission chairman Ted Davis, the state Commerce Department and local economic developers. They say that state and federal environmental permits ensure safety. The work force will be mostly engineers, researchers, laboratory technicians and sales people. “We get a $450 million plant, with 160 jobs at an average salary of almost $75,000 and annual tax revenue of about $4 million,” Davis says. “I thought the incentives were justified.”
Though a cease-fire is unlikely, hostilities might be lessening. In February, Titan wrote a letter to state environmental regulators saying it’s willing to abide by stiffer air-quality regulations expected to be released this month, even if its permit is approved before then.NEW BERN — Brunswickcut about 330 of the 630 jobs at its Hatteras Yachts plant. The Lake Forest, Ill.-based boat maker says the reduction will allow the plant to continue operating.