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County, Mills River OK incentives for 350-job factory

MILLS RIVER — The Henderson County Board of Commissioners and Mills River Town Council on Monday authorized tax incentives worth up to $7.26 million in hopes of landing a factory that would invest $217 million and hire 350 people.

A partnership of Swiss and Canadian manufacturers has narrowed its search to a 52-acre site at the Ferncliff Industrial Park in Mills River and a site outside of Columbia, S.C. Georg Fischer Ltd., a 213-year-old Swiss company, and Ontario-based Linamar Corp. announced last July that they would team up to invest in a new high-pressure light metal die casting plant in the Southeast U.S. to make lightweight drive-train parts for automobile manufacturers.
“This is a project a lot of other communities were interested in and competed for,” Andrew Tate, president of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development, told the Mills River Town Council on Monday.
The town of Mills River would regain the value of refunded property taxes in less than 10 years, Tate said.
The council quickly said yes, authorizing $302,926 in economic development incentives over 14 years for GF Linamar.
“Get the ball rolling,” Mayor Pro Tem Shanon Gonce told Tate. “Tell ‘em we’d love to have them. We’ll be good neighbors.”
Mills River has rolled out the welcome mat for four new plants with more than 400 employees in the past three years, offering property tax refunds for factories that meet investment and job creation pledges.
Once it had used the incentives, the plant would pay $48,600 a year in Mills River property taxes, Tate told the council.
“Historically what we’ve seen is companies exceeding these (projections), sometimes significantly,” he said. “You would break even in less than 10 years based on your outlay.

The Board of Commissioners took a different approach to the GF Linamar incentives than it had for most recent tax breaks, although County Attorney Russ Burrell said it was not unprecedented.
The county will advance GF Linamar $4.6 million to buy the property, County Attorney Russ Burrell, and then hold a mortgage and deed of trust to secure the loan.

“They’re not going to walk away from an investment like that,” he said.

As the company earns the tax incentives based on its investment and job creation, the county would subtract that value of the note it holds. “In other words, no payment of incentives will actually change hands for the first several years — until the total of the incentives earned under the contract equals the full land price,” Burrell said.

Under the proposed agreement, GF Linamar would invest at least $42.3 million in the manufacturing plant plus $174.9 million in machinery and equipment through 2023. The $217 million total does not include the $4.6 million land acquisition costs. The prospective GF Linamar plant would be between the brewery and the Asheville Regional Airport on the northern part of the industrial park.

Henderson County would pay up to $6,945,672 in tax incentives and Mills River would pay $302,926 over 14 years.

“It’s going to be a huge investment, as large an investment as I can remember in recent times not only in jobs but in capital,” County Commissioner Michael Edney said. “These are the type of jobs that help support all these other jobs so there’s no reason not to support incentives in general and this one in particular.”

The plant would hire operators, technicians, engineers, supervisors and management executives, Tate said.

Founded in 1802 when 29-year-old Johann Conrad Fischer made a copper smelting plant out of a water-driven mill, GF Automotive has 126 companies, including 47 production facilities, in 31 countries. A worldwide automotive supplier, GF specializes in lightweight solutions for the automotive industry.

Founded in 1966, Linamar Corp. has 48 manufacturing facilities and a workforce of 19,500 employees. The company is known for its expertise in precision machining of metallic powertrain products for the automotive industry.