News & Views » Citizen Servatius

Free Money!

Just tell the city you've got another offer

comment
Are you a wealthy executive looking to pocket a cool million for doing absolutely nothing? Do you have plans to expand your present operations in Charlotte? Well, have I got a deal for you. First, call the City of Charlotte and make up a story about how South Carolina has offered your company incentives to relocate and how you're going to leave if the city doesn't pay you off. Don't worry. They won't actually check.

I know this sounds too good to be true, since politicians around here claim they don't have the money to fix potholes or properly fund schools, but it's no joke. About a year-and-a-half ago, both the city and the county voted to give a company called Celgard a "business investment" grant of close to a million dollars. Celgard is owned by Polypore International, which netted $45 million in revenue last year. They'd been making cell phone and laptop batteries at their facility in the Arrowood-Westinghouse area for years, and had decided to invest $35 million in new equipment and add 50 new employees.

Now, most rational people would assume that a company capable of making such an investment doesn't need taxpayer money. But the agenda city and county politicians were given on the night of the Celgard vote claimed that South Carolina was trying to lure the company away. "South Carolina has offered significant monetary incentives for Celgard to move to South Carolina, and a City/County Business Investment grant helps offset the South Carolina incentive," it said.

One problem. South Carolina says it didn't offer the company incentives. The SC Department of Commerce, which administers the grants, has no records of an incentives offer to the company, said department spokesperson Amy Murray.

Mark Hadley, the spokesperson for Celgard, confirmed that the company was never offered any incentives, although he claimed the company did make contact with the state. But a week later, Polypore CFO Lynn Amos insisted the company was offered incentives to move to SC by local and state officials, though when asked which city or town offered the company incentives, Amos said, "I'm not going to comment on specifics."

And the state's claim that it didn't offer the company incentives?

"As you would imagine, they wouldn't comment on something they offered someone that didn't get done," Amos said.

Since Tom Flynn, the city of Charlotte's economic development director, suggested we talk to Fort Mill Economic Development Director Mark Farris about the Celgard deal, we did, but Farris also refused to comment.

Sometimes, of course, there are competing incentives. For example, the SC Commerce Department verified that it offered incentives to SYGMA Network. SYGMA later decided to stay at its Charlotte location, and City Council approved its portion of a $218,800 grant to the company a couple of weeks ago.

City economic development director Tom Flynn says he can't remember the name of the broker who told the city King had received an offer from SC, and that it's "no longer in city files."

At other times, however, things get murky, as in the facts surround the grant to Celgard — or, for that matter, to King Machine. Last year, King was given a $140,000 grant which was needed, our politicians' agenda stated, to "offset" incentives from South Carolina. Once again, Murray says the SC Dept. of Commerce didn't offer incentives to King Machine.

Flynn says the broker representing King Machine told the city King had gotten an offer from South Carolina, but Flynn said he doesn't remember the name of the broker and that it is "no longer in city files."

King Machine President Mike Wells did not return multiple phone calls from Creative Loafing seeking clarification. "Mr. Wells doesn't return unsolicited phone calls," a receptionist explained. Later, she simply took to hanging up on us.

How utterly obnoxious. These rich executives want taxpayers to pay their bills, yet they won't lower themselves to provide us with enough details about the deals to assure us they haven't robbed us blind. Making matters worse is the fact that city bureaucrats appear to be goading politicians into passing these giveaways with claims of competing incentives from elsewhere that, at best, can't be and haven't been verified.

But I digress.

So where did the information, or misinformation, our politicians were given come from? County General Manager Bobbie Shields says the county doesn't generally check out the details of these grants — imagine that — before sending them to the County Commission for a vote. That means the city is our likely culprit here, if we could actually pin them down, which we can't.

And that, Mr. Executive, is the beauty of the whole thing, at least from your point of view. Even better is the fact that if you decide to move within five years of the last incentives payment, you don't have to repay a dime!

Of course, you'll have to let politicians take credit for the new jobs your company's expansion will create, even though they really had nothing to do with it. But that's a small price to pay for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. So go ahead. Make that call today.

Contact Tara Servatius at tara.servatius@cln.com

Add a comment