By DEUCE NIVEN
A railroad repair, restoration and training business seems likely to be headed to Tabor City with help from a $9 million grant to the town including in North Carolina’s new $30 billion budget.
It’s a project three years in the making, said state Rep. Brenden Jones, a Tabor City Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee and was able to steer $91 million in state funding to Columbus County in the new budget. (See related story elsewhere in this edition.”
Currently located in Sylva in the North Carolina mountains, Steam Services of America is poised to relocate to a tract of land in the Emerson area north of Tabor City, Town Manager Al Leonard said.
SSOA President Robert Franzen has committed to moving his operation if the property can be developed suitably, both Leonard and Jones said.
“Part of the commitment for the funding was that this guy was to come,” Jones said. “We’ve been trying to work with this guy for years, and the opportunity just came about. It gave me an opportunity to help do something for economic development at home.
“All the stars aligned for Tabor City.”
Franzen expressed an interest five years ago in operating a rail tourism business that would link Tabor City and Conway. While that dream, as Leonard described it then, was never realized, Franzen became interested in what Tabor City, and Columbus County, could mean for his company.
Described in a news release from Jones’ office as funding “Industrial Park improvements and related economic development activities,” Leonard said the funds will allow the town to buy property off of Ten Mile Road, near current R.J. Corman Railroad tracks, and to build a spur off of those tracks that would allow SSOA to move locomotives and passenger cars to and from the property where restoration and repairs would take place.
Jones said he expects the property will be ready for SSOA relatively quickly, and that the impact will grow.
“We are going to have this place up and running almost immediately,” Jones said. “It will start small, and it will eventually grow.”
Jones said he hopes SSOA will find local work in addition to its national market, including the Corman rail line.
“RJ Corman has contractors that do their work,” Jones said. “But hopefully we will grow this business in a way that will be advantageous to them.”
While SSOA will be the first, anchor tenant in what will be a second industrial park for the town, Jones said he believes additional industry will follow.
“I think we’ve finally turned a corner for Tabor City,” Jones said. “This will be a Tabor City project, they are doing this themselves. I’m just pleased that I got the opportunity to facility some funds for it.”
Look for more on this story, and on the state’s budget impact in Columbus County, in this week’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.