No city councilmember came down from the dais to give the folks from Publix Super Markets a big welcoming hug, but considering how effusive their remarks were it wouldn’t have been surprising if one did.
At the Greensboro City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 20, in the Council Chambers, Publix asked for between $14.6 and $17.7 million in incentives, plus $3 million for water and sewer to build a 1.8 million-square-foot plant that will employ over 1,000 people at an average salary of over $42,000.
Each city councilmember and Mayor Nancy Vaughan spoke about Publix in glowing terms. The decision on whether or not Publix will build a $400 million distribution center on Birch Creek Road and Old Burlington Road won’t be made until some time this summer, but if Publix is looking for a community that will welcome them with open arms, it’s hard to imagine them finding any place more inviting.
Economic incentives can be divisive; this one is not. Not a single disparaging word was said by anyone on the City Council. In fact, there was a battle over who got to make the motion to grant the incentives, which passed 9 to 0. The problem the last couple of speakers on the City Council had was coming up with something different to say about how important this was to the community and what a great company Publix is.
Councilmember Sharon Hightower thanked Publix for considering Greensboro and said, “This is in east Greensboro, and for me that means a great deal.”
She described the $20 million investment by the city as “minimal.”
Hightower also talked about the trip she and Vaughan took to tour a Publix distribution center in Georgia. She said that all the employees had great things to say about the company and “Everyone had been there over 10 years.”
City Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann said in her experience in human resources she had often tried to recruit people from Publix but had never been successful. She said, “Their employees don’t want to leave to go somewhere else.”
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter said, “We will welcome you with open arms if you decide to pick Greensboro.”
Councilmember Michelle Kennedy said that she was not generally a fan of big corporations but Publix was an exception. She said her research showed that people came in as stockers and kept getting promoted and moving up.
City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson said, “A thousand jobs, livable wages and an honor roll history – you’ve got my vote.
Vaughan noted that the incentives were performance based and that Publix wouldn’t get the first check until it had 500 employees on site.
She said, “I can’t remember the last time we had a $400 million investment.” Vaughan added, “This will be a game changer for us.”
Greater Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President Brent Christensen explained to the City Council that Greensboro was in competition with cities in Virginia and South Carolina for this distribution center, which would be built in the mid-Atlantic region as Publix expands up the East Coast.
He said that Publix was rated as one of the best companies in its field to work for. He also said that it is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the country.
The representative from Publix said the company was dedicated to customer service and one of the best companies in the country for job security.
The one down moment of the entire presentation was the presentation by Greensboro Economic Development and Business Support Manager Kathi Dubel, who was charged with walking through the PowerPoint presentation on the details of the proposal, which include a $1.5 million incentive from the state to help cover the $3 million cost of water and sewer extension. But the presentation fortunately was brief and the enthusiasm of Christensen and the City Council quickly overshadowed the lackluster presentation.
Only two speakers spoke against Publix and one of them made the suggestion that the distribution center should be run on solar power.
The City Council ran through the rest of the meeting in short order and former City Councilmember Mike Barber gets the credit.
There were a number of unopposed rezoning requests on the March 20 agenda, and when Barber was on the City Council he convinced his fellow councilmembers that if a rezoning was unopposed and supported by staff that there was no need to listen to the staff report.
So the council has dispensed with the staff reports for unopposed rezoning requests. This shortens the meeting a great deal, not simply because there is no staff member reading some lengthy report, but more so because, after hearing the staff report, some councilmembers always had questions and would even vote against an unopposed rezoning because of some unresolved question they couldn’t get answered.
With no report there is no discussion and the meeting moves along.