A Landmark Deal With Big Spinoffs
It’s being described as the kind of deal that “comes around once in a lifetime.” And Southern Pines Mayor David McNeill made it happen , though he had a lot of help.
We’re talking — in fact, everybody in these parts is talking — about the decision by Troy-based First Bancorp to move its corporate headquarters to Southern Pines. The bank will pay $2.65 million to occupy the splendid building constructed just a few years ago to house Hobbs Upchurch & Associates, which is downsizing and moving.
This landmark decision would not have been made without a little greasing of the skids in terms of incentives agreed to by Moore County ($15,000 per year over 10 years) and the town of Southern Pines ($12,000 annually over the same period).
Though there has been a bit of grumbling and second-guessing in the days since this bombshell announcement, and though incentives aren’t always popular in principle, this package seems a no-brainer. And it was McNeill’s low-key, optimistic manner that brought the pieces together.
First Bank’s contracts with the county and town pledge that the moving of the corporate headquarters here will produce either (a) a minimum of 30 jobs, each paying at least $100,000 per year; or (b) a combined annual payroll of $5 million.
Either way, it seems all but certain that people looking back from the vantage point of the year 2023 will view the $270,000 paid over the previous 10 years as a relative pittance compared with what First Bank’s presence will have meant to the county. There will be direct and indirect benefits that people here haven’t even fathomed at this point.
Booming First Bank is the fourth-largest in North Carolina, with $3.5 billion in assets and plans to double in the next five years. It has clearly outgrown its modest Montgomery County roots, though some operations will remain there.
Normally when one thinks of bank headquarters, places like Charlotte and Winston-Salem come to mind. But in this case, the company decided to take a step up in visibility and increase its ability to recruit executives without abandoning its small-town roots. And we are the fortunate beneficiaries.
This is shaping up as the biggest deal locally in the past two or three decades. Already people are comparing it to ClubCorp’s purchase of Pinehurst Resort in 1984, the USGA’s bringing of the 1999 U.S. Open to Pinehurst, or the Dedman family’s subsequent decision to retain ownership of the resort after selling off the rest of ClubCorp.
For Southern Pines, this will bolster an already vibrant downtown district, with a big infusion of revenue. With so many highly paid employees, just their lunch tabs alone seem likely to exceed the $1,000 per month that the town has agreed to pay. The inflow of human and economic resources seem likely to create an awesome ripple effect.
In addition, First Bank seems likely to become one of our largest corporate benefactors. Everyone from the United Way to FirstHealth of the Carolinas to Sandhills Community College will benefit from the company’s philanthropic largesse.
This deal happened so quickly because the business parties involved negotiated a price quickly, and because county and town worked together — a praiseworthy instance of governmental bodies cooperating for the benefit of all, mostly putting parochialism and politics aside. (Are you listening, Washington?)
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