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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Ag recruiters land a big prize

The announcement that Henderson County's agriculture development office had landed a global partnership that uses advanced plant science to make better vegetable plants was important on a variety of levels.

When these announcements are made, jobs and capital investment are generally the two biggest pieces that county officials and economic development leaders celebrate. Although those parts are not insignificant, they do not in this case begin to tell the story.
Tri-Hishtil is an international partnership of American, Italian and Israeli companies that will bring 125 agricultural, research, marketing and management jobs to a 42-acre site formerly owned by Van Wingerden International on N.C. 191. The company spent $2 million for the property and will plow some multiple of that number into the construction of greenhouses where it will graft and grow disease-resistant plants that require less pesticide and produce higher yields.

It's a big deal that Mark Williams, the executive director of Agribusiness Henderson County (AgHC for short), called the new company "another Van Wingerden." As big a deal is the historic nature of the project, and Williams' and AgHC's willingness to stick to the project amid two years of complications. At times, Williams must have felt like a diplomat engaged in Ping-Pong diplomacy, making sure that his new friends in the Middle East and Europe and the partner he recruited from Wilmington, North Carolina, were on the same page.
The business venture renewed relationships that go back for generations. Art Van Wingerden, the Dutch bedding plant pioneer, and Hishtil founder Yehezkel Dagan were peers in the industry. Dagan knew of the detailed investigation Van Wingerden had done before locating his greenhouse empire in Mills River. Van Wingerden's relationship in turn goes back to Harley Blackwell and his days at N.C. State University's research station in Mills River. That relationship is renewed, too.
"The folks at N.C. State are absolutely giddy over this project," Williams said.
Missing from Thursday's announcement was a mention of economic development incentives, which Henderson County has aggressively pitched to encourage job-generating expansions and locations.
"I was glad somebody recognized that," Williams said. "I think that's a plus. They see the benefit of being there." Dollar one of the company's property taxes will go into the county (and Mills River) treasury.
Some jobs will be farm labor, which do not pay enough to qualify for incentives. But jobs in this case may be secondary, in the same way Sierra Nevada's booster rocket of tourism propulsion could outpace its payroll in economic value. Tri-Hishtil will need higher paying plant agronomists, marketing managers, traffic managers, warehouse supervisors and executives. It is likely to attract other plant scientists and large agriculture buyers to Mills River for business visits. And it will sell pest-resistant tomato plants to Mills River growers who will stick them in the fertile French Broad Valley soil less than a mile away.
Although it is ab overused phrase, "win-win" applies. Last week, AgHC and Henderson County celebrated a seed that will bear fruit here for a long time to come.