EDC squanders credibility

Published 12:06 am Friday, October 7, 2011

To the Editor:

North Carolina produces less than 100,000,000 bushels of corn annually and consumes more than 400,000,000 bushels. Beaufort County and surrounding counties produce roughly 25,000,000 bushels. All of this grain is fiercely fought for by a number of hog and poultry producers.

Our region’s lack of surplus corn makes it a very unlikely place to locate an ethanol plant. The $100,000,000 facility at Raeford collapsed into bankruptcy immediately upon completion.

This is no secret to the agricultural community, yet for years the executive director of the Economic Development Commission wasted taxpayer resources on the prospect of Agri-Ethanol Products opening a $220,000,000 plant in Aurora.

The EDC even used the imagined impact of AEP as an argument for purchasing the land that is now the ever-vacant Chocowinity Industrial Park.

The EDC’s executive director became AEP’s greatest booster. He could not have spent our taxes on a more harebrained scheme. AEP was an outright scandal, and executives of AEP ended up convicted on a number of criminal violations. The fallout includes an unoccupied $2,250,000 industrial park and who knows how much in ancillary expense. The fact that the Economic Development Commission could be so gullible and so completely uninformed as to the economic realities in its own backyard is embarrassing.

Once it was evident that AEP was a burst bubble, EDC’s executive director introduced taxpayers to South Tech Plastics. From summer 2007 through spring 2008, the EDC touted South Tech, a small plastics molding operation from New Bern, as an anchor tenant for the Chocowinity Industrial Park. They were the rationale for industrial park infrastructure improvements, Golden LEAF grants and EDC’s performance evaluations.

By early 2008, South Tech Plastics was announced as approved to receive $2,500,000 in various state grants. It has never drawn a dollar of the available money. To do so would have required that the principals of the firm create 25 new jobs within three years or assume personal liability for the funding received.

Did South Tech lack the confidence that it would be able to perform on the necessary jobs-creation commitment? It would seem so. Did the EDC ever undertake a thorough financial analysis of the firm before it invested so much time and money in South Tech? It would seem not. Arguably, South Tech was never a company possessing the financial strength to be seriously considered as an anchor for an industrial park. It seemed of interest mainly as a justification for the EDC’s real-estate blunder.

Next, the EDC announced a mysterious $220,000,000 Brazilian enterprise interested in relocating to the industrial park. Another dubious prospect, another predictable flop, another $220,000,000 promise — does this sound familiar? The pattern is laughable.

Something big is always coming, but nothing much ever arrives.

Thanks to a rubber-stamp board, the executive director’s performance has been evaluated based on exaggerated and pretentious promises rather than actual accomplishments. At EDC, self-promotion regularly trumps candor and accountability.

Not surprisingly, the EDC has completely squandered its own credibility along with our money.