By Sarah Nagem
A food company plans to bring 440 jobs to Scotland County as part of an $85 million investment, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday.
SO-PAK-CO, Inc. will build “a state-of-the-art (food) processing and packaging facility” in Laurinburg, Cooper’s office said in a news release.
The company, which says it is one of the largest producers of meals ready to eat (MREs) for the U.S. military, has its headquarters in Mullins, South Carolina, about 47 miles south of Laurinburg.
“With the new Laurinburg facility, in addition to our South Carolina campuses, we will be better able to serve our existing customers while also expanding our capacity to position ourselves for growth,” Lonnie F. Thompson, president of SO-PAK-CO, said in the release.
The announcement is a big deal for rural Scotland County, which consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in North Carolina. The county’s jobless rate was 7.7% in August, compared to 3.5% statewide.
SO-PAK-CO will bring more jobs to Scotland County than any company since 1972, said Mark Ward, economic development director.
The company says it will hire craftsmen and operators, as well as managers and administrative staff. Workers will earn an average annual salary of $45,000 – about $4,000 more than the average annual wage in Scotland County, according to the governor’s office.
But job seekers will likely have to wait another two years to apply at the facility, which Ward said will be built on a 50-acre tract on U.S. 501 near an under-construction fire station.
The company is expected to break ground at the site in early 2023, Ward said, and construction is set to be completed in late 2024, Ward said.
SO-PAK-CO will receive a $700,000 grant for job training through Richmond Community College, according to Ward. He expects the company will pull workers from surrounding North Carolina counties, including Richmond, Hoke and Robeson.
“We think we could easily fit that hiring for them,” he said.
SO-PAK-CO was founded in 1943, during World War II, and is now “a world leader in the design, processing, and packaging of processed foods using traditional and emerging packaging technologies,” according to its website.
“Our financial strength and stability stems from our longstanding relationship with the U.S. government,” Thompson says in a message on the company’s website. “We’ve leveraged our knowledge and experience from our military meals and have applied it to our retail customers, providing them with turnkey food processing solutions.”
SO-PAK-CO is set to get more than $11 million in grants and state and local incentives, Ward said.
Through a Job Development Investment Grant awarded by the state, SO-PAK-CO could be reimbursed more than $4.6 million in taxes over 12 years if the company meets its targets for jobs and investment, according to Cooper’s office.
Scotland County commissioners also plan to reimburse some tax money paid by the company, Ward said, but the amount has not yet been determined.
Ward said the company will get $2.4 million from the N.C. Department of Transportation to build a road at the facility and $1.2 million from the Golden Leaf Foundation for a water tank.
“This announcement is great news for Scotland County and our state,” Cooper said in the news release. “With our manufacturing legacy, diverse workforce, and transportation infrastructure, SO-PAK-CO can confidently expand their operations here to serve even more nutritious meals to our men and women in uniform.”
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