EngenuitySC Nets Nice Payout for 2009 Convention

March 30, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveEngenuitySC, the public-private partnership heavily involved in trying to develop the Midlands’ hydrogen fuel cell industry, pocketed more than $125,000 for its role in marketing the 2009 National Hydrogen Association Conference and Hydrogen Expo.

EngenuitySC received $100,000 for overall project management, $15,000 for fundraising, $6,092 for administrative overhead, $5,136 for pre-event marketing and $584.54 for miscellaneous costs related to event, held exactly one year ago in Columbia, according to information secured through an S.C. Freedom of Information Act request.

The National Hydrogen Association put on the convention and covered costs not related to marketing, according to NHA spokesman Patrick Serfass.

In all, EngenuitySC listed payments totaling $373,366, meaning its share represented nearly 34 percent of all marketing expenditures it paid out for the four-day affair.

And, according to a list of public funding sources secured through the Freedom of Information Act request, EngrnuitySC received a total of $391,658 in public money intended for the event, leaving $18,292 unaccounted for.

It was unclear how much profit EngenuitySC made from the 2009 NHA Convention and officials with the organization could not be reached for comment.

The marketing aspect of the conference, held at the Columbia Convention Center, appears to have been almost completely funded by public money.

The state of South Carolina gave $200,000 to EngenuitySC for the convention through budget pass-throughs to the University of South Carolina, the city of Columbia contributed $120,408, Richland County added $56,250, USC gave $10,000 and Midlands Tech chipped in $5,000.

EngenuitySC itself has received more than $2.5 million in public money since 2003, including $870,408 from the city of Columbia and $221,250 from Richland County. In all, the state, city and USC have spent more than $40 million in the Midlands to create a “hydrogen and fuel cell hub.”

EngenuitySC wasn’t the only organization that appears to have taken advantage of inside connections to enjoy the fruits of the expo.

Columbia advertising agency Chernoff Newman earned $143,705 for marketing work before and during the event. Chernoff Newman Chief Executive Lee Bussell is on the board of EngenuitySC and Chernoff Newman public relations specialist Emily Brady is the daughter of S.C. Rep. Joan Brady, another EngenuitySC board member.

The expo drew about 700 attendees, less than half of what organizers anticipated.

Despite the disappointing turnout, organizers attempted to put a rosy spin on things when asked about the event.

“We have had, directly as a result of the conference, a higher level of interest from larger companies and from higher leadership levels within those companies,” EngenuitySC Executive Director Neil McLean told The State newspaper in July.

“Now they understand why somebody from South Carolina is calling them. It’s easier to get to the right level of people in the right companies.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.