WINSTON-SALEM — It’s 11 a.m. on this rainy Thursday, and Bob Leak Jr. is holding court in his conference room, wrapping up his fourth media interview of the day. Everybody wants to talk about Dell.
He shakes hands with the reporter, makes a short phone call and sits down for his fifth interview. Around that time, No. 6 pulls up in the form of a white television truck.
“I’m taking the afternoon off,” declares Leak, the president of Winston-Salem Business , adding that he needs to go Christmas shopping for his wife.
A day after Winston-Salem won one of the most coveted business prizes in North Carolina history, city leaders celebrated, smiled for the cameras and reveled in the 1,500-plus new jobs that Dell’s plant will create.
“Winston needed a … bellwether project that kind of allows us to focus a little bit,” said Mayor Allen Joines, recalling two recent successes in Guilford County, the FedEx cargo hub and the Citi Cards call center.
But several questions remain unanswered. At issue are the finer points of the plant’s construction and the location of companies that Dell will likely attract to the region.
Leak’s group was contacting potential Dell suppliers before Winston-Salem was chosen, and now he says he’ll be in touch with 30 to 40 such companies in the coming weeks. He expects eight to 10 will set up shop in the area.
Potential Forsyth sites include Union Cross Business Park, which has about 200 available acres and sits just across U.S. 311 from the Dell site. In addition, parts of N.C. 66 near the Guilford County line already have the right type of zoning for many of the companies, he said.
He also expects suppliers to ask for incentives, even though Winston-Salem and Forsyth County already have pledged up to $37.2 million to Dell.
But Leak expects the plant’s economic “ripple effect” to extend beyond the county lines. Hoping for some of Dell’s wake is Guilford County, which was passed over for the plant and saved $12.4 million in the process.
Like Forsyth, Guilford wants Dell suppliers.
As for the new plant, it’ll sit in Alliance Science and Technology Park, a 189-acre collection of woods and farmland at the city’s southeast end.
Joines said grading contractors were interviewed Wednesday, and crews should start pushing dirt at the site by the end of next week.
The plant’s trucks and employees will enter the site along one of two roads, one of which already exists. The other will be a new four-lane boulevard extending west from Union Cross Road, which connects Interstate 40 with U.S. 311.
The N.C. Department of Transportation expects to start work on both projects this spring.
The site is near Union Cross, a tiny unincorporated community that’s home to a smattering of residents and at least three roosters that wandered near the town’s main intersection Thursday.
New resident Kristi Whittington is moving her family to the community from Greensboro, in part because of its rural, rootsy feel.
In the meantime, she’s living in a home owned by a local church that’s within spitting distance of Union Cross Road, which will be widened to support the traffic associated with Dell.
Thousands of homes are planned for the fast-growing area, which is just a short commute from Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point.
“I know things will change,” she said.
“I just hope we don’t lose that country atmosphere.”
In downtown Winston-Salem, some city residents expressed relief that the whole selection process was over.
High school English teacher Janet Taylor was happy about the jobs coming to the county and that Forsyth beat out “bigger” and “more cutting edge” Guilford County.
“Forsyth County finally won,” she said.
Over at the Winston Tower, Luke Waterson used his cigarette break to talk about his father, who used to commute from High Point to Sara Lee’s plant in Winston-Salem.
Waterson, who works for Document Technologies, said Dell’s new plant benefits all because it will draw workers from the whole region.
“People that live in Guilford drive to Forsyth all the time,” he said.
But Dell’s announcement hadn’t reached everyone in Forsyth.
When a reporter told Waterson’s 43-year-old colleague, William Hookes, that the computer maker had chosen Winston-Salem, his eyes popped wide open.
“Wait a minute,” Hookes said. “They’re actually coming out here? They’re coming here? That’s great!”
Contact Nate DeGraff
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