In hopes of drawing new companies and jobs, Brunswick County leaders on Monday approved moving forward with the purchase of 539 acres in the county’s northwestern corner.
The land, which is part of the Mid-Atlantic Industrial Rail Park, will cost the county $35,000 per acre – more than $18.8 million in total. The buy would give county leaders control over the land, making it easier for the county to broker deals with new companies to locate inside the industrial park, Brunswick leaders say.
No one signed up for a public hearing on the land buy, which was held Monday during a regular meeting of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners. The board unanimously voted to direct county staff to develop and execute a purchase contract for the property. The purchase will be funded by money in the county’s general fund.
Owning the land would give Brunswick County leaders control over its future use, solving an issue that has held back leaders in the past, Commissioner Frank Williams said Monday.
“When I was on the economic development board, one of our biggest weaknesses consistently was that we did not control the property that we were marketing,” Williams said.
Over his years on the board, Commissioner Marty Cooke said he’s come “full circle” on economic development incentives. Although initially deadset against incentives, he said he now recognizes their value in luring companies to the county. The county has lost out on business in the past due to a lack of incentives, according to Cooke.
“We’ve been hamstrung – you don't know it because it's closed session,” Cooke said. “A lot of times we can't talk about it, a lot of times we don't even know the name of the company. We find out later that there are household names that came here, trying to get a place to establish a presence.”
The 1,100-acre Mid-Atlantic Industrial Rail Park is located in the Northwest township. The 539-acre vacant site set to be purchased by Brunswick County is at 5060 Andrew Jackson Highway and owned by William Grainger of Savannah, Georgia, according to county property records.
Board chairman Randy Thompson said the purchase has the potential to change the look of northern Brunswick County, the area where most of the county’s industrial parks are located and will have a “positive impact” on the county’s future.
The only pushback on the board came from Commissioner Pat Sykes who raised concerns about the land’s multi-million-dollar pricetag and the impact it could have on the county’s general fund and overall budget.
“If we make this decision tonight, we need to say we're going to stick to our budget,” Sykes said, “and we're not going to be taking extra money out of the fund balance to accommodate extra things that aren’t an actual need.”
Buying the land for economic development could help Brunswick County retain its workforce-aged population in the future, said Board Vice Chair Mike Forte. He pointed to the salaries offered by some companies looking to locate in the area – many that exceed the county’s average income of just over $46,000.
“We need to keep our best and brightest here,” Forte said. “That’s the job of economic development.”
Williams echoed the need to draw in new jobs to keep workers in the area.
“I believe it will put us in a much better position to recruit jobs and industry to this county,” he said. “If we want to attract more than just retirees to this county, they need somewhere to work and somewhere to live.”
Forte said owning this industrial space is the key to allowing county leaders to bring in the companies they’ve gone after for years.
“I believe controlling this land is a pathway for landing that big fish that we keep trying to go after,” he said.
Correction: An original version of this article incorrectly stated the cost per acre of the land that's set to be purchased by Brunswick County; the land will cost $35,000 per acre not $3,500.