Business Stories of the Year: Enviva pellet plant potential tops the list

Read about Richmond County’s Business Stories of the Year

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Among the general public, it had been nothing but a rumor for a little more than a year, but when Gov. Pat McCrory made the announcement on Sept. 9 that Enviva planned to construction and operate two new North Carolina plants, including one in Richmond County, it was big news.

Why? Do the math. Salaries will vary by job function, but the average annual wage for the planned jobs — up to 80 of them locally — is expected to be $37,961, exceeding the average annual wage in Richmond County ($30,788). The company announced in September plans to build two plants that would create a combined 160 permanent jobs between the two facilities by the end of 2017 with an investment of more than $214.2 million.

The announcement also helped counter other significant job loss announcements in Richmond County, including a move by Cascades Tissue to relocate part of its operations to a new Scotland County facility, first reported by The Pee Dee Post — taking with it some 50 jobs — as well as a major workforce reduction by Southern Pines-based K2 Solutions, which was also first reported on PeeDeePost.com. The military defense contractor that puts highly-trained canines in the field with military and police agencies informed employees, including those at the Derby training facility, just before Thanksgiving there would be companywide staff reductions that could cost Derby around 40 positions.

Enviva is one of the world’s largest producers of wood pellets made from a mix of low-grade wood resources, all of which are byproducts of the traditional sawtimber industry.  Enviva wood pellets are high in density and have similar operational benefits to the coal they replace.

The project was made possible in part by an award to Enviva from the state Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program, as voted by the state Economic Investment Committee.  Receipt of the award is based on proof of job creation and other performance requirements.

Under the terms of the company’s JDIG award, Enviva is eligible to receive up to 12 annual grants equal to 59 percent of the state personal income tax withholdings from the eligible new jobs created since the date of the initial award.  Receipt of each annual grant is based on state-certified proof that the company has fulfilled incremental job creation requirements. Over 12 years, the JDIG award could yield aggregate benefits to Enviva of over $1.7 million upon the creation of 160 jobs.

There is a reason for cautioned optimism, however. On Dec. 1, an Enviva representative asked the Board of Richmond County Commissioners for an extension on the incentive program. Glenn Gray, project manager, told commissioners that a delay with the Sampson County facility had slowed the process for the Richmond County facility.

The Richmond County plant is be constructed along State Route 177 North across from CSX. Gray told commissioners during their regular monthly public meeting that closing on that property has not yet been finalized, but that the permitting process in Sampson County has pushed everything back.

Gray assured the commissioners there was no reason to lose faith in the project. He reminded them that Gov. Pat McCrory has required that the company have both plans operational by the end of 2016 “or we lose the incentives.”

The plan now is to begin construction in Hamlet by the end of 2015 and have the plant operational around August, he said.

This is the fourth of a seven-part series to close out the year, looking back on the top videos, news and sporting events of 2014. The remaining schedule includes:

Dec. 24 — By the numbers: Top videos of the year
Dec. 25 —  By the numbers: Top Sports/Outdoor stories
Dec. 26 —  By the numbers: Top News stories
Dec. 27 —  Super 7 Business stories
Dec. 28 — Super 7 Feel-good stories
Dec. 29 — Super 7 Sports stories
Dec. 30 — Super 7 Stories of the Year – final

No. 2 — Downtown Rockingham

The Post was first to report, on June 24, that the Villager Deli and Restaurant, in Pinehurst, was planning to open a second location in downtown Rockingham across the street from the nonprofit Discovery Place KIDS children’s museum.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris, center, talks with Tim Pattan, owner of Pattan’s Downtown Grille, right, and City Manager Monty Crump outside Hitchcock Place.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris, center, talks with Tim Pattan, owner of Pattan’s Downtown Grille, right, and City Manager Monty Crump outside Hitchcock Place.

On Oct. 30, the Post was again broke the news — this time, reporting that the Villager Deli was not, in fact, coming. The story created a minor firestorm of detractors of Rockingham city government leaders, including City Manager Monty Crump, and — at best — whether or not the city had a vision for downtown as previously and publicly professed.

Crump, though, encouraged people not to worry and indicated that an announcement of a replacement for the Villager — and perhaps a better tenant altogether, as well as a better fit for Rockingham — was in the works. Less than two weeks after that, the Post first reported that Tim Pattan, of Pee Dee River Swamp Sauce fame and distinction, planned to open Pattan’s Downtown Grille.

The success of the new dining establishment, as well as existing restaurants such as Henry’s Uptown Cafe and Hudson Bros. Deli, will rely in part on continuing to attract people to downtown Rockingham through Discovery Place KIDS and the Hitchcock Creek Blue Trail and Greenway.

Talking of downtown foot traffic was made a little more difficult when it became known that …

No. 3 — County opts to buy First Bank building for $1.7 million

The county commissioners with support from County Manager Rick Sago, voted on Dec. 1 to buy the First Bank building at the corner of Fayetteville and Richmond roads, approximately 1.1 miles from the current location of the county’s administrative offices at 125 S. Hancock St.

That night and the next day, county officials talked of net savings and increased efficiencies. City officials, meanwhile, said they knew of the impending deal and were optimistic the city and county could come to terms on how best to use the vacant building. They were particularly impressed with the idea of having drive-through lanes as an added county service.

Once again, readers could learn of this deal first on PeeDeePost.com and, later, elsewhere.

Of course, that wasn’t the only blow to downtown, as in May it became known that …

No. 4 — Fidelity Bank to close downtown office, relocate to Hwy 74

Yet another impact story first reported on PeeDeePost.com, it was learned that Fidelity Bank will close its downtown Rockingham branch in Spring 2015 and reopen in a newly constructed office at the site of the former Rockingham Fish Camp.

Fidelity Bank’s downtown Rockingham location will close in January 2015 when construction of its new office on East Broad Avenue is completed. The bank announced this week that the Hamlet and Ellerbe branches also will close.

Fidelity Bank’s downtown Rockingham location will close in January 2015 when construction of its new office on East Broad Avenue is completed. The bank announced this week that the Hamlet and Ellerbe branches also will close.

Wiley Mabe, senior vice president and area supervisor for Fidelity Bank, said many of the bank’s elderly or physically limited customers struggled to navigate the building’s two sets of stairs. The decision to build a new, single-story branch office at 532 E. Broad Ave. was the right one, he said.

Less than five months later, the Post was first to report that Fidelity Bank would close its Hamlet and Ellerbe branches and focus on the consolidated office at its new location.

Mabe noted that the relocation and branch closures were not expected to result in any job loss and, in fact, predicted that the larger central office could result in an additional new hire or two.

No. 5 — Sandhills Regional Medical Center faces termination of Medicare payments

If a Richmond County resident wanted a case of good news/bad news, one needed to look no further than Sandhills Regional Medical Center in Hamlet.

On July 28, a police report showed that two women alleged that Thadus Gerome Primus, 44, an independent contractor working at the hospital as a janitor, sexually assaulted both women while they were patients in the mental ward.

Then, on Aug. 22, it was learned — and read about first on PeeDeePost.com — that the hospital faced a Sept. 6 deadline to clean up its act or risk not being able to treat Medicare or Medicaid patients.

A legal advertisement published that same day served as official notice for the involuntary termination of the Medicare/Medicaid Provider Agreement between the hospital and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The notice indicated Sandhills Regional Medical Center failed in three areas — governing body, patient rights and nursing services.

Maureen Henslee, chief financial officer at Sandhills Regional Medical Center, told the Post that CMS “has cited our hospital related to a recent patient safety event.” Her comment, nor anyone from CMS, confirmed the issue revolved around the allegation of sexual assault.

Thankfully — and conveniently, for its many patients — the hospital righted ship just in time, as reported on PeeDeePost.com.

“Our administration and nursing leadership have worked together to strengthen our policies and procedures to meet and exceed CMS expectations,” said Lisa Dolan, interim chief executive officer. “CMS has accepted our plan of correction and concluded its onsite survey. While we have not yet received a written report, the verbal exit interview was positive and indicated their concerns have been addressed. We are pleased to continue as a participating provider for the Medicare program.”

The news got better as time passed. On Nov. 14, the hospital was named a 2013 Top Performer on Key Quality Measures by The Joint Commission, the nation’s leading accreditor of health care organizations. The honor recognizes hospitals that excel at meeting the Commission’s stringent measurements for exemplary patient care.

Further, it was announced earlier this month that Dr. Alan Coulson had been identified among top surgeons after having been included in the Consumer Research Council’s Guide to America’s Top Surgeons 2014 edition.

No. 6 — “Welder with a ponytail”

Andy Cagle, director marketing and communications for Richmond Community College, wrote in early August a feature story on Miranda Baucom, a female welder who might not have been on the Dean’s List had she not chosen to bypass nursing and enter a male-dominated field.

A Richmond Community College photo Miranda Baucom works on a project in the welding lab at RCC.

A Richmond Community College photo
Miranda Baucom works on a project in the welding lab at RCC.

The article wasn’t a top-read story on PeeDeePost.com but the concept was clear: RCC is the best first step in higher education for those seeking a career change and new high school graduates alike.

In December, Cagle wrote again, this time about the spring semester start for the Electric Utility Substation and Relay Technology (EUSRT) program. Due to increased demand, the program — one with a nearly 50 percent washout rate — needed to accommodate the influx of students.

Earlier this month, RCC’s Wylie Bell wrote a feature of nursing student Lauren Burris.

Whether by training the next generation of law enforcement officers, nurses, welders or others, one thing is evident: As Richmond Community College grows, so too will the chances of the people of Richmond County to help rebuild an economically distressed area.

It was difficult to understand why it wasn’t the right time to support RCC’s $15 million bond request — submitted to the commissioners in January and withdrawn in March. The money would have been used primarily to fund construction of additional classroom space. RCC is at its limits, and efforts to grow and help Richmond County are stifled as long as the status quo is acceptable.

No. 7 — The Pee Dee Post arrives on scene

Perhaps no other first-year business has impacted its industry in Richmond County in recent history than The Pee Dee Post in community journalism.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Mackenzie Eubanks, of the Smyrna School Shooting Team, lets an arrow fly from 15 yards out Saturday morning at the 36th annual Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament at Millstone 4-H Center hosted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Photo by Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Mackenzie Eubanks, of the Smyrna School Shooting Team, lets an arrow fly from 15 yards out Saturday morning at the 36th annual Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament at Millstone 4-H Center hosted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Since PeeDeePost.com launched on April 28, it’s allowed consumers of local news to have a timely and reliable source instead of having to wait 10 to 18 hours, or sometimes days, for the report to come out in a printed edition. The reports written from information gathered on scene, and not from the office, and often are accompanied by vibrant and expansive photo galleries that help tell the story better than the words themselves.

The new business model, one that is supported by paid advertising and financial contributions who appreciate local news, seems to be a hit through eight months and approaches the start of 2015 with a high degree of optimism.

Perhaps a testament to the important of The Pee Dee Post is this: There never was an introductory story for The Pee Dee Post and explain just what PeeDeePost.com is intended to be. Instead, the Post went right to work. The first story? A first-hand report (including photos and video) about 554 youth from across North Carolina taking part in the 36th annual Youth Hunter Education Skills Tournament at the Millstone 4-H Center east of Ellerbe.

Honorable Mention

* Combat Warriors descend upon Ellerbe

* Urgent care: ^ Goodbye Dr. H ^ Hello Convenient Care ^ Hello Fast Med

* FLS bringing $100 million solar farm to Derby

Filed in: Business, Ellerbe/Norman, Featured News, Hamlet, Latest Headlines, News, Outdoors, Rockingham

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