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By Michael Praats Hickory Daily Record

NEWTON -- Catawba County officials will hold public hearings during a Tuesday evening meeting to discuss economic development agreements with potentially significant outcomes. 

Other public hearings address an application to amend a wall signage regulation, and an application to amend the definition of conference/retreat center, according to a county press release. 

The first item of discussion is between the county and GKN Driveline, Newton, a division of GKN PLC, an engineering group that manufactures automotive parts. 

The company is planning to expand their operations in the town of Maiden. GKN promises to invest $110 million, as well as create 143 new jobs in the next three years, according to the press release. The combination of the company's 2014 expansion and the proposed expansion would total $122 million investment.  

The Catawba County Economic Development Corporation submitted documents to the Board of Commissioners requesting the authorization of economic incentives for GKN Driveline. 

"GKN is the third largest employer in Catawba County, and in the top five tax payers in the county," President of the EDC Scott Millar said. 

The incentives offered to GKN allow Catawba County to stay competitive and encourage businesses to come into the area, as well as maintain current business, Millar said. 

The grant is, "...based on the minimum investment of $110,000,000 and 143 new jobs within three years, with a maximum payment of $193,200 Year 1; $427,800 Year 2; $396,808  Year 3; $423,775 Year 4; and $316,250 Years 5 and 6, for a total maximum incentive of $2,074,083," according to the EDC. 

The company would be required to pay their taxes, and receive grant money after the county has received their taxes, Millar said. This allows the county to provide incentives in a prudent manner, he said. 

GKN has committed to provide an average wage for employees higher than the county average. 

The second public hearing will address the county's Economic Development Agreement with Apple Inc. 

In 2009, the county and Apple agreed to a $1 billion investment in the county. 

"Apple has far exceeded those commitments, having spent almost $3 billion dollars and having created over 400 permanent on-site jobs in less than seven years," according to the report. 

Apple is requesting the board consider a request for an amendment to the plan, allowing the company to construct more structures on newly acquired property. Apple has committed to an additional $1 billion in expenditures. 

"We are optimistic the expenditures will go beyond $1 billion," Millar said. 

The public hearing is a chance to "expose the public to the opportunity to voice their opinions on county deals," Millar said. 

Another public hearing will take place to decide if the county will allow Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores to use wall signage larger than county regulations allow. 

Current regulations state a wall sign can be up to 10 percent the area of the wall, but not exceed a total of 32 feet. 

Love's is requesting an amendment to read, "Wall signs are not to exceed 10 percent of the square footage of the facade, but not to exceed 100 square feet on any wall. There is no limit to the number of signs as long as the aggregate square footage doesn't exceed 100 square feet," according to county documents.

The Board of Commissioners also will consider the revision of the Catawba County Children's Agenda. 

"The purpose of the second go around is to update, makes sure we are still on target, and see if any goals need to change," Social Services Director John Eller said last week during a subcommittee meeting. 

One suggested change in the Children's Agenda includes a mandatory age of 18 for school attendance. 

The Board of Commissioners meeting will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the 1924 Courthouse in Newton. 


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