Winston-Salem could finally gain a corporate headquarters rather than lose one, if the city succeeds in convincing Mount Airy sock-maker Renfro Corp. to put down roots here and bring in up to 225 jobs.
The city is considering almost $300,000 in economic development incentives for Renfro, which has been in Mount Airy since 1921. Renfro has grown to be a worldwide company with 5,500 employees.
“This is a unique opportunity for the city,” Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said on Monday, speaking to members of the Winston-Salem City Council’s Finance Committee. “I can’t remember a corporate headquarter project coming this way. It is a really inexpensive project that does pay for itself.”
The Renfro incentives deal got a thumbs up on Monday from the Finance Committee, and now goes forward to a public hearing during the Oct. 7 meeting of the city council.
Joines said that if Renfro comes, it could be the first time the city has bagged a corporate headquarters since the early 1990s, when Southern National Bank came here, shortly to merge with BB&T.
A member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners expressed shock over the news.
“It would be a tough blow,” said Shirley Brinkley, a member of the Mount Airy board. “We never want to lose people that have been in our community for years and years. I have good friends that have been in corporate headquarters.”
Bob Leak, the president of Winston-Salem Business Inc., an industry-recruitment agency, said that Renfro officials told him that it’s hard to get good talent to move to Mount Airy.
“One of the reasons they are interested is that it will give them a much broader pool of people to choose from,” Leak said. “It is a challenge for them to get people in the location that they operate out of.”
Brinkley acknowledged that many young people “don’t want to live in a little town because that’s not where the action is.” But she added that Mount Airy attracts many tourists, has a thriving downtown, and still has a lot to offer.
Winston-Salem officials said Renfro was looking at other places for its new headquarters, including New York, Los Angeles and Charlotte. In Winston-Salem, the company was said to be looking for a downtown site for its headquarters.
Winston-Salem officials described Renfro as a global leader in leg-wear products in North America and internationally. They said the company has grown to 5,500 employees worldwide, and makes socks for companies including Fruit of the Loom, Dr. Scholl’s, Ralph Lauren, Polo, New Balance, Copper Sole, Wrangler and Carhartt.
Assistant Winston-Salem City Manager Evan Raleigh said Renfro has 311 employees in Mount Airy. The corporate relocation would bring 175 of those jobs to Winston-Salem, with another 50 new jobs potentially added here over a five-year period.
Raleigh said that in addition to bringing in jobs, the company or its landlord would spend $2.5 million on building improvements and about $1 million on new personal property.
City officials were touting another plus in the form of extra incentives for hiring low- to moderate-income people who live in depressed areas of the city or have other barriers to employment such as a criminal record. Under guidelines approved in 2015, the company could collect $1,500 for each such person hired and retained at least six months.
“I’m impressed with the company’s commitment to improving their diversity in a more urban setting,” Joines said.
BB&T Corp. has announced plans to move corporate headquarters from Winston-Salem as part of its megadeal with SunTrust Banks Inc., and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. has shifted corporate operations to Charlotte. Joines said it “feels a lot better to have a company coming this way as opposed to having one go outside the city.”
But Joines also said the city isn’t trying to steal a company from its Surry County neighbor. The city wouldn’t be talking to Renfro unless that company had already decided to move, Joines said, calling it “an unwritten agreement” among area cities not to poach jobs.
City officials said the average salary for entry-level employees would be $50,000, with executive-level jobs averaging $240,000.
The city’s financial help is based on paying the company 65 percent of the net new personal property and sales tax revenues from the Renfro project over its first 10 years. Those revenues are estimated at $457,469, leading to a total incentives package of $297,355, not counting the incentive for lower-income workers.
Renfro would get $231,276 up front under the deal, which city officials said is protected by clawback provisions in case the company doesn’t live up to commitments.
The Renfro deal could bring 225 jobs and a corporate headquarters here, but another incentives effort could bring even more jobs if not a headquarters.
City officials aren’t yet revealing the name of the second company they are recruiting, a data management company that is looking to possibly create between 367 and 444 new jobs here over its first three years of operation, as well as hiring around 400 temporary employees to handle seasonal surges in work.
The full-time jobs would pay an average wage of $39,000. The company or its landlord would spend $7 million on building preparation and $6 million in new property, the city said. The economic incentives total of $266,506 is based on a calculation of 65 percent of the company’s personal property and sales tax revenues over seven years.
As with Renfro, the company can collect a bonus for hiring low- and moderate-income workers.
The data management company was described as a privately-held concern that provides data management, analytics and advisory services to public and private companies. The company was said to have 1,500 employees over multiple North American locations.
City officials said the jobs here would include back-office operations in support of its business, including customer support and human resources jobs. The incentives for that company also come before the council on Oct. 7.