Drug maker exceeds growth goal, still going

Jun. 03, 2014 @ 02:18 PM

Just a year after beginning an expansion that was expected to add 40 jobs over three years, Exela Pharma Sciences has already surpassed that and is planning further expansion.

The Lenoir pharmaceutical company plans to add 40 more jobs, with an average wage of $40,000 a year, and spend $6 million on this expansion. The Caldwell County Board of Commissioners approved a new incentives package of up to $80,000, or $2,000 per new job created, and a five-year county tax grant that would pay back the company a portion of its propert taxes.

The tax grant would apply only to taxes on the increased value attributed to the company’s new investment; the county would pay back up to 75 percent of those new taxes, or $36,000 a year if the investment totals $6 million, said Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. Over the five years of the grant, that could come to $180,000.

Exela, which opened here in 2008, had fewer than 50 employees last summer but now has about 100, making it one of the fastest-growing and best-paying companies in the county, Murray said.

The company’s new expansion is a highlight so far of what Murray told the commissioners could be the “best year ever for economic development” in Caldwell County, but she said the most exciting projects are still awaiting approval.

The EDC is working on 18 projects. Of those, 13 are still in development. Five are in the approval stages and would promise a total of 248 jobs and $8.55 million in new investment.

Murray said $50 million to $80 million in projects is awaiting approval, and she expects June and July to be this year’s “banner months.”

Building permits for the county are right on track for the year to date, but dollar values of those permits are well past the halfway mark of what was projected, Murray said. If that keeps up, she thinks 2014 will “eclipse, and then some, any of our previous years.”

The board also voted to return ownership of four county parks to the community organizations that run them, in order for the county to avoid the cost of liability insurance. The county voted 4-1 to return Baton Ruritan Park, Collettsville Park, North Catawba Optimist Park and Southern Caldwell Optimist Park back to the Optimist and Ruritan clubs in those communities. The county will continue to fund the parks.

Mike LaBrose, the lone nay vote, said he didn’t disagree with the idea but asked whether the organizations had been notified of the county potentially returning ownership of the parks. Jimmy Harrison, human resources director for the county, said they had not.

“I think they deserve to be told, other than to read it in the paper tomorrow morning,” LaBrose said.

LaBrose said he wanted more information about how this decision may affect the organizations, including the clubs’ own insurance policies.

“(What if they) cannot place insurance, or it’s triple what their budget called for? What happens if they have to shut down programs because of liability?” LaBrose said.

At Commissioner Chris Barlowe’s suggestion, the commissioners added to the proposal a 30-day period before transferring the deeds, instructing county staff to work with the groups and see how best to proceed.