Koury Corp. President Steve Showfety probably has most things he wants, but on Thursday, April 19, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to give him something he really wanted but didn’t yet have – a fourth three-year term on the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority.
Though Showfety got the reappointment he was seeking, he did so without a vote to spare and just in the nick of time, as his term on the authority was set to expire this month.
Most county appointments and reappointments to boards and commissions require a simple majority vote; however, earlier this year, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners adopted a new policy that requires a two-thirds vote of the board in order to reappoint someone to a board on which he or she has served two or more terms. Since Showfety was up for his fourth straight term, he needed the votes of at least six of the nine commissioners – which is exactly how many he got.
The board’s five Republican commissioners, along with Democrat Kay Cashion, voted to reappoint Showfety, while three Democratic commissioners – Skip Alston, Carolyn Coleman and Carlvena Foster – voted against the reappointment.
That meant Showfety, the current chairman of the Airport Authority, could continue to serve in that capacity as Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) moves forward on several key initiatives, including an airport rebranding and renaming effort and the 2019 opening of an 800-acre megasite with runway access. Many local leaders and economic development officials hope the airport megasite will be a central driver of economic development in Guilford County in the coming decades.
The Board of Commissioners was actually scheduled to approve Showfety’s reappointment at the commissioners Thursday, April 5 meeting. However, the item was mysteriously missing from the final version of the agenda for that meeting. The reason, one commissioner revealed later, was that two of Showfety supporters – Commissioners Justin Conrad and Cashion – were absent, and therefore there weren’t enough votes at that meeting to reappoint the Koury Corp. president, who’s already served on the airport’s oversight board for 12 years.
At the April 19 meeting, Chairman Alan Branson mistakenly said the board was voting on Showfety’s “third term” on the Airport Authority. Commissioner Skip Alston pointed out that it wasn’t Showfety’s third term but his fourth. The reason Alston made the correction is that that was the whole point behind Alston’s objection.
“It’s not anything against Mr. Showfety,” Alston said, “but I really think this is a board that a lot of our citizens would like to serve on. I really don’t think it’s fair for us to keep on reappointing people to these boards that a lot of people would like to serve on in our county.”
Alston said Showfety was a personal friend and someone who was “very much involved in our community,” but, Alston added, that didn’t change the fact that it was unfair to other citizens to give him a fourth term.
Coleman also said she couldn’t support Showfety because he’d already served in the capacity for so long.
“This is the kind of thing that makes citizens feel that we’re not being fair, that government can’t be trusted, that we have certain people at certain levels that we will only appoint,” she said.
She said six years of one citizen on an appointed board was plenty.
“When you double that, if really makes the citizens feel distrust,” Coleman said.
Commissioner Alan Perdue brought up an interesting point that apparently hadn’t occurred to others: The usual rules may not apply since this board is different than other county boards and commissions.
“This is not a Guilford County board,” Perdue said of the authority. “This board was developed by state statute. Their duties and responsibilities go beyond what our board envisions. We’re authorized to make appointments on this board but it’s not one of our boards.”
Cashion said she was voting to support Showfety because there had been a groundswell of support in the community to see him continue serving the Airport Authority.
“I don’t think that I have gotten as many calls of support in appointing anyone as I have Mr. Showfety,” Cashion said. “It seems that that board really wants him to remain as part of that board.”
Cashion also said that, based on feedback she’d gotten, Showfety brought a great deal of value and leadership to the Airport Authority.
“It’s not often that I get that kind of support for board members,” she said.
The vote on Showfety was the last action item on the agenda at the April 19 meeting – a meeting that began with the second annual State of the County address, which is apparently going to be a tradition going forward.
Last year, then Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips started the tradition with a speech and a mini-press conference that followed. This year, with Branson the chairman, the speech was a more low-key affair. Phillips had stood during his speech and made his State of the County address at a special time before the meeting, whereas Branson’s speech was delivered with Branson seated at the dais after the meeting had begun.
Hours before the speech, Branson joked that he was going to wear a hat that said “Make Guilford County Great Again” while he made the speech, but when the time came, Branson was hatless.
In this 2018 State of the County speech, Branson was largely upbeat. He focused on the good deal of positive news in the county over the last 12 months. He said the county’s population continues to grow and it’s up by about 5,000 since last spring. He also spoke about overall economic growth that’s been spearheaded by a joint community effort between Guilford County, the City of Greensboro and the City of High Point in the form of the Guilford County Economic Development Alliance.
Branson also noted that Site Selection magazine had chosen the Greensboro-High Point Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) as the No. 2 metro area for new projects in 2017 among MSA’s with populations between 200,000 and 1 million. He said that was a result of 41 economic development projects in 2017 for the Greensboro-High Point MSA, which also includes Rockingham and Randolph counties. He pointed out that Guilford County had gotten new jobs from Environmental Air Systems, Mickey Truck Bodies, Crown Mark Furniture, Creative Snacks, XPO Logistics, Pratt Industries and HAECO, and he added that those recent additions had helped lead to a low unemployment rate of 4.8 percent – down from 5.1 percent last year at this time.
Branson also spoke of the Board of Commissioners’ commitment to education and he pointed out that the board has increased funding for Guilford County Schools for five years in a row. The chairman spoke of the educational programs in Guilford County that had excelled and won awards over the past year.
Branson spoke quite a bit about the upcoming projects for the county including a new animal shelter, a new Family Justice Center in High Point to provide help to victims of domestic abuse in that area, and the renovation of the old jail in downtown Greensboro, which is being transformed into administrative offices for the Sheriff’s Department. Branson didn’t mention the fact that the project is taking much longer than originally anticipated.
In the speech, the chairman spoke of the way the Board of Commissioners and other groups in the county supported economic growth “in a way that is both attractive and compelling to existing and outside business interests.”
He added, “Our goal is to support an economic and community atmosphere that attracts higher paying jobs and enhances the quality of life for our citizens in the coming years.”
Soon after his speech, the board made another move in the name of job creation: After a lightening fast public hearing where no one spoke in opposition, the commissioners voted at the meeting 9 to 0 to approve incentives for Amada North America Inc. – a subsidiary of a Japanese based company that makes equipment for sheet metal fabrication and related items for a host of different industries.
Amada had asked the board to approve an incentives package for a new $82 million project at 2545 and 2565 Penny Road in High Point. The county’s incentives approved will total about $990,000 if the company lives up to its end of the bargain and creates over 200 new jobs.
The company is still a few months away from making a decision official, but all indications are that Amada will choose the High Point location this summer when its board of directors makes a final decision. The first phase of the project will consist of new construction valued at $25 million, with $16 million in other investment by 2022, and 100 jobs being created in that phase. If all goes according to plan, that will be followed by a second phase with another $25 million in additional construction and another $16 million in other investments. The county’s incentives will be paid out over a five-year period.
The vote in favor of the incentives for Amada came on the heels of a 9-to-0 vote from the county for Publix Super Markets incentives just a few weeks earlier. The board has five Republicans who ran on anti-incentive platforms, or who at least said that they were very skeptical about the wisdom of incentives. However, now in 2018, the entire board appears to be completely gung-ho in favor of incentives.
Interestingly, while the vote for Amada was unanimous, before the meeting some commissioners weren’t sure the board’s three black commissioners would approve the move since they had questions about minority participation in Amada’s work force. If that was a concern, it didn’t come up at the meeting.
Branson said to Amada representatives right after the unanimous vote, “We certainly do hope you folks choose Guilford County, North Carolina, and the High Point location.”
At the April 19 meeting, the Board of Commissioners also approved a new contract with Cherry Bekaert to audit the county’s books, as well as a new contract with the Children’s Homes of Iredell County and several other entities to help house children in foster care in Guilford County.
At the meeting, several commissioners praised the community’s tornado response and relief efforts conducted by the law enforcement, public safety and residents after the Sunday, April 15 storm.