April 17, 2009

Getting serious about business

Garner, long a residential town, sees opportunity in building a business base.

Triangle Business Journal - by
Amanda Jones Hoyle

GARNER – Household brand names like Butterball, Papa John’s, McDonald’s and Chef Boyardee are more than just popular food choices in the town of Garner.

They are an increasingly important part of the town’s income and employment base.

Over the last few years, Garner, a town of about 26,300 residents just south of Raleigh, has attracted the attention of several major manufacturers and distributors and convinced them to open and expand operations here.

Now, after hiring a new economic development executive and updating its incentives structure, Garner is increasingly positioning itself as a business hub.

Town leaders have become adept at promoting Garner’s convenient proximity to downtown Raleigh, Interstate 40, U.S. 70, U.S. 401 and Interstate 95, as well as enticing companies with local economic incentives.

Non-residential tax sources, such as property taxes paid by commercial developers, make up about 39 percent of the town’s $33 million operating budget. Plus, groups such as the Garner Revitalization Association are trying to increase the corporate tax base by attracting more businesses to Garner’s two-block downtown corridor.


Garner was among the first municipalities in Wake County to adopt an economic development incentive policy in 1994, which helped the town attract expansion projects for ConAgra Foods, the maker of Chef Boyardee canned pastas and dozens of other food products, and laminate flooring firm Pergo.

ConAgra, with more than 700 employees, is the largest private employer in Garner. Pergo employs about 120 people. Each has received about $190,000 in economic incentives from Garner in the form of property tax refunds since 2000.

Papa John’s International committed in 2003 to expand its regional and distribution facility in Garner after the town agreed to grant about $232,000 in economic incentives.

Turkey processor Butterball LLC, which moved its headquarters to Garner’s Greenfield North business park in 2008 and is expected to add 100 jobs, and McDonald’s supplier Golden State Foods have also taken advantage of the town’s economic incentives.

Golden State Foods is building a 133,000-square-foot warehouse in the Greenfield North business park that is expected to open in August. The company’s expansion is expected to create 225 jobs.

Both companies are leasing their buildings from Craig Davis Properties, developer of Greenfield North.

Garner revised its economic development incentives in December 2007, changing the formula for incentives payments to 1 percent of a company’s building and equipment tax bill. Under the old policy, incentives payments were based on the estimated value of a project. “We wanted something more concrete,” says Rodney Dickerson, the assistant town manager who drafted the new incentives policy.


The new incentives policy places greater emphasis on retail and mixed-use development projects.

According to the new policy, “large shopping centers and malls will be considered for incentives if they meet the other criteria and adhere to a set of design requirements and amenities to be included in the agreement.” Incentives are intended for projects valued at $50 million or more that also exceed 50 acres.

Specific incentives have also been created for cafeteria restaurants with at least 210 seats and bookstores with a minimum of 18,750 square feet.

In February, Garner hired Tony Beasley, a former senior building inspector for Garner, as its first economic development director in more than nine years.

“We’re busy every day,” he says. “We are now the face of Garner for legislative functions, meeting with developers, meeting with existing businesses.”

Dickerson says no companies have qualified for the town’s economic incentives under the new policy and no applications are pending. Since January 2000, the town has distributed almost $3.5 million to companies that the town council has approved for economic incentives under the 1994 policy. The companies that have received the most incentives payments from the town are the Charlotte developers of the White Oak Crossing retail power center at the intersection of I-40 and U.S. 70 and Craig Davis Properties, which owns the Greenfield North business park.


White Oak Crossing, a joint project by Collett & Associates and Core Properties, has collected almost $2.4 million in incentives. The 700,000-square-foot retail center opened in 2003 with space for about 35 stores, including Kohl’s, BJs Wholesale Club and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Entities connected to Craig Davis Properties and the development of Greenfield North have collected $552,900 since 2004.

Another effort to spur business is coming from the Garner Revitalization Association, an independent nonprofit group founded in 2005 that markets Garner’s downtown district, which includes about two blocks of businesses along Main Street and Garner Road.

John Hodges, executive director of GRA, says the organization has begun a facade grant program, which provides funds to businesses to improve the appearance of their buildings.

The group also expects to roll out a new streetscape plan in the summer that would add improvements such as sidewalks and park benches to downtown.

The GRA is also funding a market analysis that should be completed by October to determine the most appropriate projects for the town center. Among the possibilities are a town hall, a community center and an aquatic center.