Johnston County

Chamber calls for dialogue

The Greater Smithfield-Selma Area Chamber of Commerce issued the following statement on the proposed CSX cargo-container hub in Johnston County:

The Greater Smithfield-Selma Area Chamber of Commerce was excited to hear the news on Jan. 14 that CSX would build an intermodal rail terminal in Johnston County. CSX has promised 300 construction jobs and up to 1,500 permanent jobs statewide, each with pay well above the average wage in North Carolina.

At the same time, the chamber is concerned to hear how this project has been handled, especially in the way that property owners were contacted. A more thorough vetting of the project and the processes involved needs to take place.

The chamber is a business association representing the central part of Johnston County. One of its primary goals is economic development and the creation of quality employment. The new jobs would add about $18 million each year to the local economy. Most wages circulate six to seven times before leaving a community. So the actual impact on Johnston County could be more than $125 million. Other firms, wanting to be nearby, ultimately would add much more to the economy.

The Smithfield-Selma area desperately needs jobs like the ones proposed by CSX. Over the past two decades, Smithfield and Selma alone have lost more than 6,000 manufacturing jobs from companies such as Fieldcrest Cannon, K.R. Edwards Leaf Tobacco Co., Burlington Industries, Eaton Corp., Channel Master, B&M Machining and TT Electronics. This area, along with the rest of Eastern North Carolina, suffers from the loss of traditional employment in the tobacco and textile industries and continues to feel the effects of the devastating floods of Hurricane Floyd. Smithfield and Selma have seen rising poverty, lower-performing schools, higher rates of rental housing and stagnant population growth, all of which are indications of a lower standard of living.

The CSX project potentially could transform Eastern North Carolina into a national transportation center. With two ports, three interstate highways, two future interstates, two major rail lines and the Global Transpark, this entire part of the state could attract many additional companies needing these services.

The chamber continues to do its research and due diligence about the project. At this time, our knowledge is based primarily on media reports. An open discussion with railroad officials, community leaders, economic-development professionals and local property owners would be welcomed and the chamber would like to be a part of that dialogue.

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