For release 4/11/13
Contact: Matt Ehlers, 919-250-4314
RALEIGH -- A new $12 million sweet potato processing plant is on its way to Robeson County, bringing with it more than 100 jobs and a high-tech process to monetize one of the state's most important crops.
Trinity Frozen Foods will build its plant in the Carolina Commerce Technology Park in Pembroke, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday. The announcement came after fierce competition with a rival site in South Carolina.
Grants from the N.C. Rural Center helped to make it possible. The center awarded three grants to the project, totaling $925,000. To qualify for the awards, Trinity committed to creating at least 122 full-time jobs and has estimated that the facility could employ 149 by the end of 2015.
The new plant is the result of many months of negotiations. "We were teetering within hours of losing it," said state Sen. Michael Walters, who represents Robeson and Columbus counties. "Without the Rural Center and its grant programs, the project would have gone to South Carolina."
Billy Ray Hall, the center's president, wasn't about to let that happen. "We were determined not to see North Carolina sweet potatoes shipped out of state for processing and then sold back to us," he said. "We want to see more of this kind of value-added processing of our farm products happening here in this state."
The two biggest Rural Center grants will help refurbish the vacant building where Trinity will locate and assist with installing natural gas lines. A smaller grant will help with supplying propane to the facility until the gas lines are operational. The site has been vacant for two years. In addition to the Rural Center's awards, a Golden LEAF Foundation grant of $1.16 million will help improve wastewater facilities at the site.
The project is an important victory for Robeson County, where unemployment rates have hovered around 14 percent.
"It will definitely strengthen our economy with the number of jobs they're creating and their investment," said Greg Cummings, Robeson County's economic development director.
Trinity markets frozen sweet potato fries to both the food service and retail markets. According to the company, sweet potato fries have experienced double-digit growth for several years.
The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop sound economic strategies that improve the quality of life in rural North Carolina, with a special focus on individuals with low to moderate incomes and communities with limited resources. The center operates a multifaceted program that includes conducting research into rural issues; testing promising rural development strategies; advocating for policy and program innovations; and building the productive capacity of rural leaders, entrepreneurs and community organizations.