Archived Opinion

In the end, Haywood leaders make the right call

op frHindsight is indeed 20-20, and this time Haywood County commissioners very likely saw things exactly as they should have.

The plan to sell 55 acres in Haywood County’s industrial park to a start-up recycling sorting company has been scuttled. A press release sent out by the county Monday, Nov. 10, said that the company had withdrawn its offer. With the decision made, it’s way too easy to sit comfortably at my desk with my laptop and write with confidence about why this wasn’t a good idea.

First, the man behind Regional Recycling Solutions just doesn’t have a track record of success. His attempts to start a similar recycling-related business in nearby counties have all met a similar failure as the one proposed in Haywood.

Plus, the company owner’s integrity was called into question when it was learned that the much-anticipated property tax revenue the county was counting on was a pig in a poke. Recycling companies are exempt from property taxes, and it’s hard to believe RRC owner Ken Allison did not know that, so questions arose about why he did not share that information with Haywood County officials. It’s equally disturbing that the plan got as far as it did without anyone from Haywood County realizing that there would be no property tax revenue.

Then there was the opposition from those who live near the facility. I’m fairly confident that some of that opposition was politically motivated, it was also clear that many who don’t usually venture into the political arena were very upset about the type of business that was going to open. Those fears may or may not have been validated, but the emotions were very real. It seems those fears did make a difference to commissioners. Haywood citizens should take it as a good sign that commissioners listened and acted on those concerns.

Another valid point from an economic development standpoint is that, although these jobs were OK, they weren’t great. As one taxpayer expressed to me privately, it just didn’t seem like those courting this firm were setting the bar very high — recycling picking line jobs that would pay mid-$30,000 range at best. That’s not bad, but it’s not real good.

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So making the argument against this firm — now — is a simple matter. But what if you look at the other side of the coin and consider what might have been lost: was this a potentially viable economic development move that might have brought, over time, up to 75 new full-time jobs in a county that hasn’t created a whole lot of new jobs since the 2007 recession? Did our fears about the who — Ken Allison — and the irrational fears of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) crowd blind us to a very real opportunity?

Look, I’ll admit that when I first heard that some kind of industrial recycling company was looking at Haywood it sounded exciting. Most people can surmise that we need to develop betters ways to make use of what too often ends up as trash, and that those who figure out how to do that efficiently will likely make a pile of money. 

Admitting that, one can see how county leaders who began talking with Allison could have become very excited about the possibilities. Plus, the county invested a lot of money in this particular land just as the recession hit. It had spent more than $700,000 on this land but it had not drawn much attention from potential job developers. It’s incorrect to say Haywood was desperate to sell and create jobs, but any county leader who’s honest will admit that constituents are always prodding them to attract new industry.  

Economic development is a tough game. Jobs are a holy grail for elected leaders, the one success that is akin to bringing sustenance to the masses. I won’t disparage county commissioners for entertaining this offer, but I appreciate their decision to turn RRC away after properly vetting the pros and cons. 

(Scott McLeod is the publisher/editor of The Smoky Mountain News and also a member of the Haywood County Economic Development Commission. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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