Under the Dome

Golden LEAF Foundation says $50 million reserved for auto plant deal

The North Carolina foundation that is funded with national tobacco settlement money is reserving $50 million as an incentive to help lure an auto manufacturing plant to the state.

The decision was announced Thursday by the Golden LEAF Foundation and adds to recent reports that the state is in the running for a major manufacturing plant as several automakers look to ramp up to meet increasing demand.

Volvo and Land Rover have both expressed interest in the Southeast, and news reports indicate talks have been held with North Carolina and nearby state officials.

Gov. Pat McCrory alluded to the effort in his State of the State address on Wednesday night. McCrory has been seeking more incentive money, but has met with a skeptical legislature that has said it would consider projects for special funding on a case-by-case basis.

“The fight for jobs is global, played at the highest level, and the competition is on our heels,” McCrory told lawmakers. “Just a few weeks ago while on an economic development trip in Europe, other governors preceded me, and I know, followed me after I visited a major company.”

There are at least three sites in North Carolina that have been targeted for an auto plant, including one near Siler City.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach said in an interview that the $50 million would not affect annual grant making. The foundation has about $800 million on hand, and earnings and interest are used each year to make grants. The yearly grants have been in the range of $35 million, he said.

Golden LEAF has not been receiving new money from the national settlement. Instead, it has been going to other state uses.

“The committed Golden LEAF funds are not earmarked for a specific site or company, but to a site that an automobile manufacturer has indicated is its preferred North Carolina location,” Gerlach said in a statement. “The Foundation generally does not make a single grant of this magnitude, but recognizes the transformative potential of attracting this industry. The Board’s commitment is equal to a year and a half of our current grantsmaking budget, conveying the seriousness and aggressiveness that will be required to be successful.”

The money would be used for costs associated with project needs, such as public infrastructure or workforce training.

The foundation provided about $100 million in 2008 for an airplane parts manufacturer, Spirit Aero Systems, that is at the Global TransPark in Kinston.