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Franklin to award economic grant to ‘Project Wayah’

Franklin Town Council called a special meeting for Aug. 21 to discuss a couple of mundane business items — street closures and uniform guidance policies — but the board added a closed session item to the agenda to discuss an economic development project. 

The town board typically doesn’t conduct much business away from public eyes and ears, but it has recently gone into a couple of closed sessions for the purpose of economic development. 

Following the Aug. 21 closed session, Town Attorney John Henning Jr. read a resolution stating the town declared its intent to offer an economic development grant in the form of a land donation. The town is offering approximately one acre of town-owned property to a business only known right now by the code name “Project Wayah.”

The board passed the resolution 5 to 1 with Councilmember David Culpepper voting against it. 

In exchange for the grant, Project Wayah promises to make a capital investment of $3 million in 2018 — $1.5 million will be in the form of improvements to the property and $1.5 million will be in the form of tangible real property.

The business also plans to make a $2 million capital investment in 2019 — $500,000 will be in the form of property improvements and $1.5 million in the form of tangible personal property. 

According to Wayah’s request to the town, the business will hire an additional 23 employees in Franklin, bringing its total employment up to 105 during 2019. In 2020, it plans to add an additional 10 employees. All employees will be provided health insurance and other benefits and 

“All such employees will be fully employed to at least 40 hours per week at an average wage of $46,509 per year, and that wages for all such employees shall be above the median wage for the Town of Franklin as listed annually by the North Carolina Department of Commerce Finance Center,” the request stated. “Project Wayah shall keep all such employees fully employed to at least 40 hours per week through and including at least 2024.”

The town has not released the address of the one-acre that would be donated to the business, but stated that the property is valued at $115,878 per acre. 

The resolution passed by the town council states that the town was informed that the existing business would choose to locate in another city and state if the economic development grant wasn’t approved. 

During the called meeting, Culpepper said the town didn’t know for certain whether the company would relocate if the town doesn’t approve the grant. 

Henning said that was an aspect he can work toward collecting more information on between now and the public hearing. Legally, the town would have to be able to demonstrate in a court of law that the grant was needed to keep the business in town. 

“It can’t just be for convenience,” he said.

Before the grant is a done deal, the town must hold a public hearing, which is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1, at town hall during the council’s regular monthly meeting. Members of the public will be able to comment and ask questions about the project. 

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