The jobs-at-any-cost crowd is celebrating today because Sanderson Farms has followed through on its purchase of land on the Nash-Wilson border to build a monstrous poultry processing plant. Once built, the plant will employ around 1,100 people, but those will be some of the costliest jobs in North Carolina.
Rocky Mount and Nash County officials have salivated over the prospect of these jobs, insisting that a job is a job is a job. What kind of work it involves, how much it pays and what impact it has on the environment and the larger population doesn't matter. Rocky Mount lost hundreds of jobs when PNC Bank bought RBC and gutted the Rocky Mount banking center. But a thousand people killing chickens won't replace a hundred crunching numbers for a bank.
Nash County's determined courting of the nation's fourth largest chicken processor may be the most short-sighted economic development strategy in North Carolina history.
The plant would be built near the intersection of N.C. 58 and N.C. 97 near the Tar River Reservoir, where expensive homes line the shore. Those houses will lose value, and the reservoir's recreational value will decline when chicken processing effluent leaks into the Tar River and the foul odor of eviscerated chickens permeates the air. Sanderson proposes building a six-mile pipeline to a spray field to rid the area around the plant of its waste water. That spray field is in the watershed for Wilson's expanded Buckhorn Reservoir. Thus, the Sanderson plant could damage the water supply of both Rocky Mount and Wilson.
When Rocky Mount ran short of water during a drought a few years ago, Wilson provided water through an emergency pipeline to keep Rocky Mount from running dry. Wilson sold the water at a bargain rate. Do you think Wilson will be so generous when the next drought comes around? Or perhaps both cities will be surviving on bottled water then if chicken entrails pollution has ruined both water supplies.
Wilson County has worked hard in recent years to attract clean, upscale industries. Its emphasis on pharmaceutical plants has paid off. Merck, Sandoz and Purdue are industry leaders, which pay high salaries and attract educated workers — just the opposite of Nash County's kowtowing to slaughterhouses. Wilson County officials logically worry that a chicken slaughterhouse and a threat to the water supply will make Wilson less appealing to pharmaceutical prospects and might even drive away existing companies.
Property owners and the city of Wilson will continue the fight against Sanderson's plans, but their success is doubtful. This saga will not end until the day when area residents, facing water contamination and the loss of quality jobs, turn to Nash County officials and ask, "How could you be so stupid?"