Winston-Salem leaders sounded ready to roll out the welcome mat for Mount Airy-based Renfro Corp. on Monday, as the city council approved about $300,000 in economic development incentives meant to lure the company into bringing its corporate headquarters here.
Renfro chief executive and president Stan Jewell told members of the Winston-Salem City Council that his company wants to attract a more diversified workforce than it can attract in Mount Airy, and noted that a third of the company’s Mount Airy employees already live in the vicinity of Winston-Salem.
Jewell himself lives in Winston-Salem, but he said after Monday’s council meeting that the move is not a done deal: Forsyth County votes on its own incentives package on Thursday, he said, and after that he and his board will have to discuss the company’s options.
The company has worldwide employment of about 5,500 people, and told local officials that it is also considering New York, Los Angeles and Charlotte as possible locations for a new corporate headquarters.
The company has about 300 employees working in Mount Airy. Renfro is considering relocating 175 jobs from its current headquarters, and possibly creating 50 more jobs at the new site over five years. The average salaries would range from $50,000 for entry-level positions to $240,000 for executives.
During a public hearing on the incentives, supporters stressed the benefits to the city, and opponents criticized incentives for failing to improve the quality of life.
“This is a great project for Winston-Salem and Forsyth County,” said Bob Leak, the president of Winston-Salem Business Inc., an industry-recruitment agency. “We don’t often get a chance to get a headquarters.”
Leak said Renfro employees would create a “significant office presence” downtown that makes the prospect “exciting.”
But Yusef Suggs, executive director of Action4Now, a community group, complained that the city gives incentives to “companies that don’t perform.”
“We have children starving,” Suggs said.
JoAnne Allen, the president of Action4Now, pleaded for the company to come to Winston-Salem if it wants, without getting an incentive.
“I’m sure the company can afford to move here,” she said. “I’m asking this company, ‘Please don’t take the money.’ If you are going to come, come, but stop taking our money.”
Another speaker, Calvin McRae, said he is excited about the company’s plans if they involve coming to Winston-Salem.
“I would love to see this area invigorated by more companies coming here,” he said.
The city incentives are based on the city paying the company about 65 percent of the net new property and sales taxes that would be generated here by company investment and purchases.
Renfro can also collect a $1,500 bonus for each low- or moderate-income person it hires from designated neighborhoods where people are disadvantaged.
Council Member Vivian Burke asked how the city could check on Renfro to see if it is really creating a more diverse workforce. Jewell said that while Renfro is privately-held, it would share workforce demographics with the city.
On Thursday, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners will consider almost $150,000 in incentives to encourage the Renfro move.
In other action:
The Winston-Salem City Council approved the rezoning of about four and a half acres beside Maple Chase Golf and Country Club for duplex housing on Monday.
Plans show that the undeveloped property on the east side of Germanton Road would become the site of 10 duplexes containing 20 residential units, with access to the units from the entry drive to the golf club that intersects Germanton Road across from East Hanes Mill Road.
The rezoning was sought by Gateway Management Services Inc., which also owns the golf course.
Planning staffers said the proposed duplexes would be compatible with the residential uses that are permitted on adjacent properties.
The two-story duplexes would be placed on the east side of a new cul-de-sac drive leading north from the existing golf club parking lot. Each unit would have a garage facing the new private drive on its west side, and patios overlooking the golf course links to the east.