Coordinating Council Approves Seven ‘Confidential’ Projects After Closed-Door Meeting

June 7, 2013

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

 

closed meeting

Incentives council’s ‘public’ meeting closed to the public.

The normally secretive S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved taxpayer-backed incentives Thursday for seven “confidential” projects and moved more than $1.3 million from a dormant account to beef up its deal-closing fund.

The council, made up of the heads of various state agencies involved with economic development, conducted a 10-minute closed-door meeting to discuss unspecified legal issues and the seven projects, labeled as “confidential economic development projects ” on the meeting agenda and identified only by county.

After the panel emerged from its executive session, it approved a single motion for the projects, located in Beaufort, Charleston, Clarendon, Florence, Lancaster, Richland and Saluda counties.

It’s unknown how many taxpayer-funded incentives – likely to add up to hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of dollars – will be allocated to these projects until after the S.C. Department of Commerce negotiates final deals.

“I think it’s great we’re bringing so many jobs to rural South Carolina,” said John Finan, interim director of the state Department of Employment and Workforce and a Coordinating Council member, during Thursday’s meeting. “It’s going to help the unemployment rate tremendously there.”

The council and a subcommittee known as the Enterprise Program Committee routinely conduct their closed-door meetings at Commerce’s headquarters, located on the 16th floor of a high-rise office building across the street from the State House. Thursday’s meeting was no different.

The Nerve first exposed their secretive meeting practices here.

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt chaired Thursday’s meeting. Besides Finan, other present Coordinating Council members were S.C. Department of Revenue Director Bill Blume; state Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers; Duane Parrish, the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism director; Don Tomlin, chairman of the state Jobs-Economic Development Authority; and S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge.

Two members were available by conference call: Nick Odom, board chairman of the state Technical College System; and S.C. Research Authority Chairman Marco Cavazzoni, who is a Boeing Co. executive.

The council authorized redirecting $1.36 million from a supplemental appropriation Commerce received from the General Assembly in 1997 to the agency’s deal-closing fund, which is used to entice industry to locate or expand in South Carolina.

Chris Huffman, Commerce’s chief financial officer, said the $13.8 million supplemental appropriation was allocated for a project that never materialized, and that the Coordinating Council has the discretion to move some of it. Commerce has less than $1 million remaining in the deal-closing fund, and the additional money would raise the total to more than $2 million, he said.

The deal-closing fund likely will be growing a lot fatter with the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

Huffman updated the council on deal-closing fund appropriations in the Senate and House versions of the 2013-14 state budget, with the Senate allocating $25 million, and the House, 21.3 million, from a “variety of streams” of money. A joint committee of Senate and House members is scheduled to meet today to begin to work out differences between the budget versions.

On Monday, Commerce said $300,000 from the deal-closing fund was awarded to Davis Aircraft Products, a maker of aviation tubing systems, which plans to relocate its manufacturing operations to its new Georgetown County facility. The $5.5 million investment will generate 100 new jobs, according to a Commerce press release.

The Coordinating Council at its meeting Thursday authorized about $2 million in incentives for five new or expansion industrial projects in the state’s rural areas.

Following is a list of the names, locations and descriptions of the companies, amount of planned capital investment, number of jobs to be created, and the amount and purpose of the awarded incentives:

  • Sunny Z Foods Inc. in Saluda County, which will make Chinese noodles:  $12.3 million investment, 153 jobs, $1.15 million in incentives for land acquisition and building improvements. The grant comes from the deal-closing fund;
  • Angus Palm LLC in Florence County, which produces cabs for heavy equipment: $13.3 million investment, 55 jobs, $500,000 in incentives for building improvements. The grant comes from the set-aside program, which can aid site improvements related to location or expansion;
  • Advanta Southeast LLC in Clarendon County, which produces automotive parts: $3.35 million investment, expanding with 30 jobs, $100,000 in incentives for site improvements. The grant comes from rural infrastructure funds, which can be used to enhance infrastructure for economic growth in specific counties;
  • Aqua City Bottling Inc. in Marion County, which will produce bottled water: $1.65 million investment, 50 jobs, $100,000 in incentives for building improvements. The grant comes from rural infrastructure funds; and
  • Taylor Made Golf Co. Inc. in Pickens County, which produces golf equipment:  $13.1 million investment, expanding with 125 new jobs, $100,000 in incentives for site improvements. The grant comes from set-aside funds.

The Coordinating Council also approved sending a letter to Lexington County certifying the council agrees that a county application to the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) would benefit economic development.

The proposed project would connect the John Hardee Expressway in front of Columbia Metropolitan Airport to Interstate 26, about one mile west of I-26’s Exit 115. The project has about $10 million now and needs another $73 million to $74 million to complete the section of the expressway, St. Onge said.

“It’s a worthy project for which we don‘t have money,” he said.

One of the criteria that the STIB board examines for funding a project is if the Coordinating Council believes it would boost economic development.

Hitt said the project is in the Columbia and Cayce areas and has been boosted by the presence of Amazon and Nephron Pharmaceuticals. He said extending the expressway would enhance it more.

Olson can be reached at (803) 254-4411 or curt@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_curt and @olson_curt. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.

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