May 19, 2014

Chester County’s big economic development project is auto-related, state Rep. Ralph Norman says

State Rep. Ralph Norman says an unnamed company involved in an incentive deal with Chester County involves an “auto-related” industry; Chester County officials decline to comment.

Chester County is one step from landing a company that could invest more than $560 million and employ 1,500.

County officials have not named the prospective company or what it might manufacture, but state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, said the project is automotive related.

Karlisa Parker, Chester County’s economic development director, declined to comment Monday on Norman’s statement.

County Supervisor Carisle Roddey said he does not know the identity of the company linked to project “Summer.”

Without any comment Monday night, the County Council passed an ordinance that would give the unnamed company tax breaks as incentives to set up shop in the county.

One more vote by the council is needed to approve the tax breaks.

All seven council members, including Roddey, voted in favor of the project.

No one from the public spoke about the project during public comment.

A public hearing on the tax breaks for the yet-to-be-named company will be at 9 a.m. June 13. A final council vote is expected June 16. The time of that meeting has not been set, but it will most likely be a morning meeting, Chester County officials said.

The prospect of 1,500 jobs has excited the council and Chester County residents. The talk of spinoff investments, new housing, even a revitalized downtown Chester has created a buzz not seen since the collapse of the textile industry.

When textiles left, the county suffered. Downtown Chester has a number of empty storefronts with “for sale” and “for rent” signs posted.

The county’s unemployment rate is 6.9 percent. The expectation is the manufacturing plant would generate a number of other businesses.

In 2009, at the worst of the recession, 1 of every 5 Chester County residents was looking for employment, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The last time the county’s unemployment rate was below 7 percent was December 2000, when it was 5 percent. The county labor force has shrunk since that time. In 2000, the estimated labor force was about 16,400. Today, the labor force is about 14,600.

Previously announced economic development projects are beginning to produce jobs in Chester County.

JN Fibers of China, which is operating locally as Sun Fiber, is investing $45 million to recycle discarded soda and water bottles into a polyester yarn. The company has started to hire and is expected to employ more than 300 when fully operational.

When the JN Fibers project was considered by the council, the company’s identity was kept secret through the required three council votes.

Hamilton-Jones is breaking ground Wednesday on a sodium bisulfate production facility. The $29 million investment is projected to create 20 full-time jobs. The plant should be operational by April.

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