GREENSBORO — Elected officials from the city and county on Thursday approved an incentives package worth $3.6 million for Syngenta Crop Protection, the latest effort to retain another of the area's economic engines.
The money comes with a catch: Syngenta must retain its local workforce of 650 employees and has to invest at least $68 million in its Greensboro operation, which serves as its North American headquarters.
At a special meeting Thursday afternoon to address the proposal, City Council approved an incentives deal worth $1.7 million by an 8-1 vote. Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy was the lone dissenter.
Later Thursday, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved $1.9 million in county tax incentives with the same strings attached.
The company has said "pending the outcome of those sessions, Syngenta will announce a decision about its Greensboro site in the near future."
But even with the money, there's no guarantee the Chinese-owned company will remain here.
In the past year, City Council has already granted major incentives packages to two companies to keep them, and their jobs, here.
In March, the council approved an incentives package of up to $426,000 to entice New York apparel company Centric Brands — which was considering other cities — to move into downtown's Gateway Building.
In November, the City Council granted The Fresh Market about $300,000 to retain its 248-employee headquarters and expand by 53 jobs. The city joined with High Point's offer of $300,000 and Guilford County's package of $106,000 to convince the specialty grocery company to remain in Greensboro, where it was founded in 1982.
On Thursday, a much bigger deal was offered for Syngenta. But then, the stakes are high.
The company, which sells agricultural chemicals and performs biotechnology research, operates a 70-acre campus and 17 buildings on Swing Road in Greensboro.
The company said earlier this month that the site was established in the mid-1960s and renovations or a relocation are a necessity.
According to the company, its options "include renovating our current facilities as well as moving to a new location in the area or elsewhere."
Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, said Syngenta is actively evaluating other sites and recently moved another of its operations from Minneapolis to Chicago.
"They are going through a systematic analysis," he said.
The incentive money would be paid over 10 years and only if the company fulfills its obligation to retain all 650 jobs and invests $68 million.
Most City Council members said Thursday they supported the proposal.
Kennedy, however, had a different take.
She lauded Syngenta's deep support of nonprofits in the community, but said she was skeptical that the city's offer of $1.7 million would be enough to make a difference with a $68 million investment at stake.
At Thursday evening's county meeting, the commissioners voted 8-0 for the same incentives format.
With Commissioner Carolyn Coleman absent, members voted after hearing from Christensen and Syngenta executive Vern Hawkins, who said the company needed to ensure its employees had "a safe and productive work environment."
Jeff Phillips, who chairs the board, joined fellow Republican commissioners Alan Branson and Justin Conrad in saying they were philosophically skeptical of incentives, but were swayed by Syngenta's importance to the community.
Commissioner Melvin "Skip" Alston had a different outlook.
"I'm a fan of incentives," the Democratic commissioner said. "I think it's an investment into our community."
Now that the money has been approved, comes the inevitable question: Will Syngenta stay?