Robbins Pushing Change
Congressman Howard Coble and state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco came to Robbins Thursday to meet with business leaders and others concerned about the economic plight of northern Moore County.
“We want the Robbins area to be a HUBZone,” Mayor Theron Bell said. “We have such high poverty here, so much unemployment. This could really help.”
HUBZone is an acronym standing for “Historically Underuti-lized Business Zones,” as identified by a number of federal agencies for favored government contract status. The Small Business Administration (SBA) runs it.
Bell has written Gov. Beverly Perdue and other officials trying to get that status for her town. It would mean incentives that could put Robbins on an even playing field with other ares able to offer incentives to businesses that might bring jobs.
Cake and coffee from Bear Creek Coffee Co. and pastry from Middleton Mercantile greeted a room full of guests at Town Hall, where County Commissioner Craig Kennedy and Ray Ogden, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress, backed up Bell’s plea for help.
Crisco and Coble, who are old friends, joked about being in different political parties. Coble, a longtime Republican, has just moved into new, larger offices resulting from his party’s majority in the House of Representatives.
Crisco said he came from a family full of Baptists and Republicans, but when he was courting his wife, he found her family were all Methodists and Democrats.
“When we got married, we compromised on politics,” Crisco said. “So for 45 years, I’ve been a Methodist and a Democrat.”
Bell, who shares Coble’s political affiliation and Crisco’s denomination, was quick to reply.
“Nothing wrong with being a Methodist,” Bell said.
Former mayors Mickey Brown and Laura Ann Brady joined Bell to ask for help getting past a bureaucratic hurdle.
Robbins, with 36 percent of its residents living below the poverty line, more than meets federal criteria of 25 percent in poverty for HUBZone status.
Trouble is that they have been told to wait for new census data in case the numbers change. Those figures won’t be available until the fall of 2012 — a long time to wait for families that need jobs now, Bell said.
Business people in the area agree.
Terry Crews and Bill Crisp took Coble and Crisco on a tour of the American Growler plant, where the company is turning out three of these combat vehicles a week for the U.S. Marine Corps.
That contract will come to its completion someday, and they are looking to future products.
Not long ago, Growler got a contract with the Air Force for one device, and will start production this summer on a civilian off-road all-terrain vehicle they are calling a “Hoot.”
“It’s an off-road ATV that is also amphibious,” Crisp said. “It goes in the water as well as on land.”
After a trip through the production line at the Green Street plant — once a junked textile mill, now a spotless manufacturing facility in full production — Coble and Crisco took test rides in a Growler.
It crawled easily up a 45-degree slope, hung at that steep angle effortlessly, then back-steered down to make a tight turn and take them down and around the company helipad where the Marine Corps V-22 Osprey can land and take off.
On the way, the driver demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to creep sideways when necessary. Growlers are able to be off-loaded from a V-22 under combat conditions, set up, and begin firing in less than 42 seconds.
Another military supplier based in Robbins is owned and operated by a town commissioner, Joey Boswell, and his wife.
They are the sole U.S. distributors of the Cornershot. It’s a gun that can shoot around corners.
Bell, Coble and Crisco took turns donning ear protection and firing live rounds at a paper target while Robbins Police Chief Jeff Sheffield made sure all the other visitors stayed safely back.
Back at the Growler plant, they talked bout the problem of getting HUBZone status during a picnic lunch from The Little Village Inn.
The point made again and again was that with the military’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) making Fort Bragg bigger, there are a lot of military contracts that could, because of the town’s proximity to the base, mean jobs for Robbins.
But there is one problem: The town has to compete with other areas able to offer incentives unavailable to Robbins. North Carolina’s economic tier system is county-based, and the wealthy Sandhills section has kept Robbins out of the game.
That’s why Bell wants HUBZone status for Robbins, and why she and other business leaders hope Democrats like Crisco and the governor and Republicans like Coble can help.
None of them have any hope that economic conditions around northern Moore County have actually improved to the point where Robbins would not qualify, so waiting for 2012 seems to make little actual sense.
“Small businesses in high-unemployment, low-income areas get an economic boost from the HUBZone contracting program,” according to the SBA website. The program provides contracting assistance — read advantage — to small businesses located in economically distressed communities. The HUBZone plan is meant to promote job growth, capital investment and economic development in these areas, including Indian reservations.
Benefits for HUBZone-certified companies include competitive and sole source contracting, a 10 percent price evaluation preference in full and open contract competitions, as well as subcontracting opportunities. The federal government has a goal of awarding 3 percent of all dollars for federal prime contracts to HUBZone-certified concerns.
Robbins could use that help, and Bell said she is going all out to get it. Coble and Crisco promised to do whatever they can to help.
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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