By Richard Sullins |

The Sanford City Council voted earlier this week to serve as the local government pass through agency for a second grant in support of an economic development project in the building materials industry that would create 235 new jobs in Lee County.

The additional funding comes from the North Carolina Railroad Rail Infrastructure Grant to Project Frame and will fund up to $300,000 of the costs of the construction of a rail spur for the as-yet unnamed company’s operations at 1600 Colon Road.

“Project Frame” is the code name assigned to this effort being led by the North Carolina Department of Commerce during the recruiting and negotiating phase of the process. The company’s name will be revealed at an official announcement that is expected to happen within the coming weeks if Lee County is selected as its home.

The company performance requirements for the Railroad Rail Infrastructure Grant say that the rail spur must begin to be in use within 36 months of the Rail Use Date and that the spur must be used to receive or distribute a minimum of 150 rail car shipments during each year that the line is in use.

“We have been in extensive conversations with this company. We believe this company is a very good project for this community based on the capital investment and the jobs created at well above the average county wage,” Jimmy Randolph, CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, told the council on Tuesday, March 15.

Randolph spelled out the urgency of taking on the administration of the railroad grant.

“We also understand that we are competing with another state that already has the rail infrastructure in place at a competing site. This grant will allow this site to compete effectively,” he said. “The company has indicated that they really like Sanford, that they would love to locate here in Sanford and Lee County, but the rail spur is essential to their being able to operate their business here, so I would encourage you to take on the role of being the local administrator for this grant.”

In December, the council approved the release of a separate incentive grant of up to $224,828 for Project Frame, representing the city’s share of an $18 million project that will create at least 235 jobs in the building construction materials industry over the next four years. An additional 28 full-time jobs at the company’s existing North Carolina facilities would be supported by both grants.

That initial grant will cover the costs of constructing a new manufacturing facility and purchase of new machinery and equipment to be installed on the property. The average annual wages of the jobs to be created through the project will be at least $50,470.

According to the job creation schedule, the first 30 jobs to be generated by the company are to be in 2022. 98 more jobs will be created in 2023 and 107 will be added in 2024.

In exchange for the incentives, the company has agreed to create and maintain 235 new and full-time jobs through June 30, 2027. According to the terms of the agreement, the funds will not be released until the company has made its first actual payment of property taxes to the city.

The council had previously approved a petition in December from Lee Iron & Metal LLC for a non-contiguous annexation by the city of a 46.9-acre tract of land owned by the company at 1600 Colon Road. The owner expressed a desire at that time to get sewer service extended to the property in connection with an economic development project believed to be Project Frame.

No more empty buildings

The cover story in the March 2022 issue of The Rant Monthly titled “Packed with Potential” focused on the recent growth in Sanford and how empty buildings in the downtown area are being snatched up, often by out-of-town buyers, and returned to life as new restaurants, shops, and retail spaces. The story noted, for example, “Punic Properties, LLC, is a Raleigh-based corporation which has, according to the Lee County Register of Deeds office, purchased at least six downtown properties since 2018.”

Following publication of that story, Mayor Chet Mann said he had “received some comments from people who didn’t understand why we had so many empty buildings downtown and I wanted to clear the air on that.”

“We have five or six empty buildings downtown because of one reason – because they have been sold, and they are under new management that is in the process of improving, revitalizing, and reconstructing those buildings. There is not a building downtown that I am aware of that is available or for sale. Our buildings are full,” he said. “Our largest buildings are going under some form of renovation and will be rolling out over the next year or two, depending on the theme or what it is. I am very pleased to tell you that our downtown is full and if you wanted in, you should have bought earlier, because now you are going to pay more, which is a good thing for all citizens because we did exactly what the revitalization plan was for, which was to turn a ‘C’ space into a ‘B’ space, and a ‘B’ space into an ‘A’ space. And we’ve done that.”

Speaking of his “Open for Business” platform that he ran on when first elected in 2013, the mayor said “to see how well the agenda has worked, you can look down Chatham Street and see the Koury Building, which for years had been a very tough situation for the city. I can’t remember how many square feet it is, but it’s several hundred thousand. It’s under new management and ownership from Legacy Homes and they will begin to build cabinets, custom cabinetry, and homes products for their business and also for retail sales.”

Mann said a new roof valued at more than $1 million is being added to the building “and that’s a huge investment for downtown and for Sanford in general, and I think it’s indicative of where we are in the economy and that people are finding Sanford to be a great place to invest. So, for those who are concerned about the empty buildings downtown, just stay tuned, because they are under new management and new ownership, and they are going to be coming out into the public over time. So, we’re excited about that.”