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Caldwell County happy to pay for new jobs, regardless of wages

A textile company will receive nearly half a million dollars in state and local incentives to open a new factory in Caldwell County and hire 127 people. But those workers will be paid far less than the average income in the already-struggling rural community. The average wage in Caldwell County is only about $28,000. But Advanced Textile Solutions plans to pay its new workers even less than that - an average of $19,111 to sew military clothes and airplane seat cushions. Workers will get health benefits, but they'll be making little enough to qualify for some government assistance programs, too. In exchange for creating the jobs, Advanced Textile Solutions will get $440,000 in tax credits from the state's economic incentive fund and Caldwell County. "Whether they pay the county average wage or below, we're happy to get those jobs in - especially in these times," says Charley Winkler, spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Commerce. "Our competitor for these jobs was South Carolina, Virginia. We'd rather have the jobs here for our citizens," Winkler adds. Typically economic incentives are reserved for companies that promise to pay better than the average local wage. But Winkler says the state makes exceptions for economically distressed regions like Caldwell County where the unemployment rate is over 16 percent. Harry Whalen, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, says it's been more than a year since the county had a significant jobs announcement. He adds the county has some workers with limited skills and education that need jobs, too. "We simply cannot cast those people aside," says Whalen. "This is the opportunity for a job." In many cases, Whalen says people taking the new positions will be second income earners in their homes and not sole-providers. Advanced Textile Solutions will set up shop in a factory that closed in the town of Sawmills not long ago. Many of the laid-off workers hope to hire on with the new firm. Advanced Textile Solutions Vice President Gettys Knox says the company chose Caldwell County because of that experienced workforce and the generous economic incentives.