Thursday, October 6, 2022

Take 5: $9M TRU Colors investment, city OKs incentives for 4 secret companies, board of ed talks endowment

PNC Bank is investing in Wilmington-based brewery TRU Colors. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — As news unfolds throughout the week, Port City Daily tries to cover topics that remain top-of-mind to the community. However, small newsrooms like PCD can’t always get to everything. (Consider supporting our work here.)

“Take 5” will be a weekly roundup of five headlines from throughout the week that are important nonetheless and should be on the public’s radar — but didn’t necessarily make it on the site as soon as the news dropped.

1. TRU Colors receives $9.25M investment from PNC Bank

PNC Bank announced this past week it is investing $9.25 million in TRU Colors, a for-profit brewery in Wilmington that employs gang members in its mission to promote unity and provide economic opportunity.

The brewery is utilizing the funds to finish renovations on its headquarters, housed in a once-abandoned textile factory at 715 Greenfield St. The 56,000-square-foot space has the capacity to churn out a million cases of beer a year. It also holds offices, a recording studio, a wellness center and gym, and classrooms where trainees undergo a program prior to starting work.

According to its news release, PNC Bank’s financing includes a $6-million equity investment and a $3.25-million secured line of credit. The backing is part of the Pennsylvania-based bank’s $88-billion Community Benefits Plan, a four-year strategy to bolster economic growth of low- and moderate-income communities and people of color through various avenues of financial support.

TRU Colors rolled out its first product, a 95-calorie lager called “TRU Light,” last year and has quickly distributed across the state’s markets. Locally, it is sold in several grocers, including Food Lion, as well as bottle shops and restaurants.

“As TRU Colors continues on a trajectory of accelerated growth, we’re grateful for PNC Bank’s support, which will fuel the expansion of our operations and ultimately increase our social impact,” brewery CEO George Taylor stated in the release. “This investment holds great meaning for the TRU Colors family and emboldens our resolve to continue brewing for progress.”

To chair Stephanie Kraybill’s point the endowment won’t fund operational expenses, board member Judy Justice holds up the agreement from the hospital sale, which prioritizes education for the use of the profits. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

2. School board broaches topic of $1.25B endowment, talks turns ‘adversarial’

The New Hanover County Board of Education talked briefly Tuesday night about opportunities to address a host of needs, especially those revolving around staffing, with the help of the $1.25-billion community endowment. However, the conversation quickly turned “adversarial,” as some board members bickered.

Board member Judy Justice brought forth the discussion to pursue grants from the endowment, formed in the wake of the New Hanover County-owned hospital sale to dole out the profits to the community.

Justice envisioned the benefit of the interest alone could boost NHCS to the best school system in the state, without raising taxes. She pointed out education is one of the endowment’s four top focus areas per the sale agreement. For that reason, she thought salaries could be an acceptable use of the funds.

“I honestly am very surprised over the last year with all the concern that our government officials have shown and the school district has shown and the public has shown that this has not been a major topic of being able to draw on these resources,” Justice said.

But board chair Stephanie Kraybill said it wasn’t the school board’s job to hold the county responsible for the contract. She believed, based on conversations with the endowment board members, the grants wouldn’t go toward operational funds, rather “ideas that are collaborative with other agencies and organizations.”

This provoked Justice to raise up the contract to the rest of the members and audience. Other board members became somewhat defensive of the notion they or administrators were “ignoring” the opportunity.

“Our superintendent is very aware that this is coming down the pike and this is an option,” member Stefanie Adams said. “He is not ignoring this, and I’ve had conversations … and he has shared some of his ideas and the ideas of the senior team.”

The endowment board has not materialized its grant criteria yet, thus leading board members to emphasize it’s a premature discussion (applications open in September). Based on a December listening session she attended, Adams said she expects initial grants to be smaller and likely target workforce housing.

On the opposite end of the debate, board member Stephanie Walker said she didn’t see the trouble with a committee coming together to prioritize what it would want to ask for.

“This was our hospital,” Walker said. “The promise for us was that we were going to have money to invest in our community.”

Board member Hugh McManus then came into the conversation, saying the perception of the board “being so adversarial with each other, all the time” would deter any other board from desiring to give them funds.

“We’ve got to quit it,” McManus said. “I truly believe we’re in a bad place right now to start asking for things based on the perception of this board.”

Other coverage from the meeting:

The Pender County Sheriff’s Office is looking for information on the identity of this man.

3. Pender County Sheriff’s Office loses suspect, doesn’t know his name

Last Sunday in Hampstead, a suspect in a domestic violence case managed to escape the back of a patrol car and flee from deputies.

Around 7:45 p.m., Pender County deputies were dispatched to the Scotchman convenience store at the corner of Highway 17 and Country Club Road to a report of domestic violence. Once on the scene, deputies spotted a vehicle matching the description from the report and followed the car to a Lowes Food parking lot. Deputies said they came in contact with the driver and an “unknown male passenger.”

According to a sheriff’s office news release, the male passenger was handcuffed and put in the back of a patrol car. But, just before 9 p.m., he escape and fled the lot. At first, deputies named a wanted man, warning he was armed. The next day, they discovered it was a different person who they’d detained, and they had wrongly identified the initial suspect.

The sheriff’s office is still on the search for the unknown man who was in the back of the car. The department has released a photo and is asking anyone who sees or knows him to call 910-259-1212.

Also in crime this week:

  • A Bolivia man was taken into custody on multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, according to the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. Tyler Michael Williams, 23, faces nine counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, and one count of dissemination of obscene material to a minor under the age of 16. He received a $50,000 bond.
  • Two men from Winnabow were arrested for allegedly shooting guns into a home. Jayhlen Washington, 22, and Eddie Hollingsworth, 35, both are charged with discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling. Hollingsworth also faces a felony for aiding and abetting. Both men were issued a $50,000 bond at the Brunswick County Detention Facility. No one was injured in the gunfire.
  • Two New Hanover County men — 26-year-old Greer Old, known as “Ghost,” and 22-year-old Daniel Reaves, known as “Goon” — were sentenced to 240 months and 144 months in federal prison, respectively, this past week for brutally injuring a man in August 2018. That summer, the men concocted a plan, along with Brittany Moses, to steal heroin from Moses’ ex-boyfriend. Moses met with the victim in a Wilmington parking lot and lured him into her car, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Old and Reaves then came into the vehicle and demanded heroin at gunpoint. When the victim only handed over a small amount, the group believed that he was hiding more. According to the release, he was pistol-whipped several times — once so hard it left an imprint of the gun on his forehead — and was shot in the arm. “He was then pushed out of the car, bleeding from the gunshot wound, and abandoned on Klein Road in Wilmington,” according to the release. “The assault in the car was so violent that another car followed them and provided aid to Moses’ former boyfriend until the police arrived.”
  • Richard Craig Wilkinson, 62, was found guilty by a New Hanover County jury of taking indecent liberties with a child as well as child solicitation via computer. Read more here.

4. City of Wilmington approves economic incentives for 4 anonymous companies

The City of Wilmington approved its economic development incentive packages for four secret companies earlier this week after previously delaying action to prolong the public comment period. No one ended up speaking during the public hearings, and the incentives were approved unanimously.

County commissioners approved $1.9 million for the same companies earlier in February.

Reportedly, the state may be contributing to the deals as well and reserves the right to reveal the names of the companies. Local officials were briefed on their titles and further details in private.

In total, all four companies will create over 1,000 new jobs with $110 million in payroll and invest over $125 million in the community. Any that fall short of their commitments will not receive the full incentive amount.

“The types of companies that we deal with consider other great places to live as well,” Scott Satterfield, CEO of Wilmington Business Development, told council on Tuesday night. “We compete with the Charleston’s and Savannah’s and Jacksonville’s and other fine places that boast high qualities of life. So I think the message that you all send tonight by considering investing in companies that are already here, as well as companies that are looking to bring new opportunities, says what we need to say to the rest of the world. Because we know post-Covid and everything else, every community is going to be fighting for economic opportunity.”

The four companies are as follows:

Project Transit, an established company in the area with many forthcoming sales jobs, will receive $300,000 from the county and $200,000 from the city over five years. The expansion will create at least 300 new jobs, with an average salary of at least $62,000.

Project Speed is a warehouse logistics provider coming to the area. It will accept $67,500 from the county and $45,000 from the city over five years. It will create at least 75 positions during that time frame, from truck drivers to warehouse workers, earning an average of $64,000 per year. Plus, the company is set to invest at least $16 million in real and business personal property, including the construction of a 120,000-square-foot cross-dock facility, the first of its kind in Wilmington.

A reportedly well-known company in the fintech arena, Project Buckeye already employs over 500 people locally. It will accept $300,000 from the county and $200,000 from the city over five years. The business is planning to invest at least $25 million in capital expenditures while creating 204 new jobs. The hirees will make salaries of $113,000 on average.

Project Clear, an energy company, is receiving $1.25 million from the county and $250,000 from the city over five years. The company’s expansion will create at least 485 jobs over five years, paying average earnings of $131,000. It is putting a minimum of $85.2 million toward real and business personal property within the county.

Other coverage from city council’s meeting:

5. Masks no longer required on buses, governor vetoes ‘Free the Smiles’

New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties’ public school systems had all dropped their mask mandates earlier this school year. However, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students still had to keep masks on while on buses, up until this week.

On Feb. 25 the CDC announced it was terminating its requirement of masks on buses or vans operated by private or public schools. The change aligns with updated guidance that no longer recommends universal indoor masking in pre-K through 12th-grade schools in areas with a low or medium Covid-19 Community Level.

All three districts are now running buses with a mask-optional policy. New Hanover County Schools started Thursday.

Also this week, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the “Free The Smiles Act.” The bill would give parents the right to opt their children out of student mask mandates, but the governor said he would prefer to stick with the 2021 law that grants school boards the power and requires their members to re-vote monthly on the issue.

“Passing laws for political purposes that encourage people to pick and choose which health rules they want to follow is dangerous and could tie the hands of public health officials in the future,” Cooper said in a statement.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore tweeted that he intends to move forward with a veto override.

“This isn’t over,” he wrote. “Looking forward to overriding @NC_Governor‘s veto and returning this decision to parents, where it belongs.”


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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at alexandria@localdailymedia.com or on Twitter @alexsands_

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