The News & Observer

Raleigh, N.C.

February 2, 1995

Right lure sought for Motorola
Governor rallies Durham forces

Tim Vercellotti and Carrick Mollenkamp, Staff Writers

Copyright © 1995, The News & Observer

Seeking to prevent a Motorola semiconductor plant from slipping through the state's fingers, Gov. Jim Hunt summoned Durham's power elite to a Wednesday breakfast meeting that was part pep rally and part strategy session on how to win the economic plum.

Those who attended the hourlong meeting at the governor's mansion said Hunt and his aides urged Durham's political, business and university leaders to step up efforts to snare the $1 billion project.

"What the governor was saying was, 'You guys get out there. Don't take Motorola for granted,'" said Becky Heron, chairman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners. "We're a great place to live, but we need to convince Motorola of that."

Motorola Inc. is considering a 200-acre site in the Treyburn industrial park in Durham County and a location outside Richmond, Va., for a plant that could create up to 5,000 jobs.

While state and local officials and business recruiters have been individually discussing the project with Motorola for several months, the meeting Wednesday was the first time the key players had gathered in one room.

The "A list" of clout in Durham met behind closed doors with Hunt, state Commerce Secretary Davis Phillips and other state officials over scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and hash browns.

In addition to Heron, those in attendance included Terry Sanford, former North Carolina governor and U.S. senator; Duke University President Nan Keohane; Phail Wynn, president of Durham Technical Community College; Durham County Manager George Williams; Durham City Manager Orville Powell; Durham Mayor Pro Tem Isaac Robinson; Bob Booth, president of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce; John Marlowe III, chairman of the chamber's board of directors; and Ken Spaulding, chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Topics ranged from possible incentives to the advantages and disadvantages Durham faces in competing with Richmond.

Sources familiar with the project suggest North Carolina's incentive package is lacking compared with Virginia's proposal. But Watts Carr, director of the state Commerce Department's Business and Industry Development division, said North Carolina has a competitive deal to offer the company. Carr, however, declined to discuss that offer.

Whatever is on the table, it isn't coming from the governor's incentive fund for industrial recruitment. The $12 million appropriated for the fund in thepast two years has been spent and is, in fact, overcommitted.

It will be up to the General Assembly to allocate more money for the fund -- an allocation that might not even be approved in the current legislative session.

Could incentives come from Treyburn? Jim Hinkle, industrial development director for Treyburn, declined to say whetherthe Hawaiian estate that owns the park might consider a lower purchase price for the land.

"It's confidential what we do," Hinkle said.

Incentives could also come from the county. As he entered Wednesday's meeting, John Marlowe, Durham Chamber chairman and senior vice president and regional marketing manager for Centura Bank, said the county might offer Motorola a break in personal property taxes on equipment. Marlowe declined to elaborate on the idea, which the county commissioners would have to approve. County officials, however, say they aren't sure whether state law would permit such a tax break -- or whether they would support it. Instead, they're touting an industrial development policy that allows companies to use property taxes to pay the cost of extending water and sewer lines to a new plant. Environmental issues also surfaced in the discussion, including whether the uncertain future of the county's watershed ordinance might count against Durham.

County commissioners are awaitinga state study before updating the ordinance, which limits development near Falls Lake. Treyburn's industrial land lies about a mile from the Falls Lake reservoir, Raleigh's main source of drinking water.

The study is due to be finished in October. Motorola, however, might choose a site for its plant within the next month.

Heron, reached after the meeting, sought to dispel worries that the possibility of changes in the ordinance might frighten off Motorola. If the commissioners tighten restrictions, there still should be land available in Treyburn to accommodate the plant, she said.

State officials also discussed Motorola's environmental track record and assured city and county leaders that the company has pledged to meet or exceed state and local environmental standards.

Toxic waste from two Motorola plants near Phoenix seeped into the city's aquifer in the 1970s, poisoning miles of underground water supplies and prompting lawsuits from more than 600 homeowners. The News & Observer recounted the episode in an article Monday.

"That's really ancient history," said Steven J. Levitas, deputy secretary in the state Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources, who attended the meeting Wednesday. "I don't think that has any bearing on the way Motorola is doing business today."

Levitas said the state will closely scrutinize Motorola's plans.

"Everyone in that room wants to make sure there's no threat to our drinking water supply," he said as he left the governor's mansion. "All indications from Motorola are that they want to meet and exceed our environmental standards."

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Copyright © 1995, The News & Observer.

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