By Paul Gable
Mike Hill, Chief Operating Officer of AvCraft Technical Services, Inc., will have the opportunity next week to demonstrate to Horry County Council members why the county should provide economic development funds and reduced rent to his company.
Hill complained to the media last week that he ‘failed to understand why some area politicians continue to criticize his business (AvCraft) which has no financial or ownership relation to the one that failed to live up to job promises years ago.’ Now Hill has the opportunity to sell council on the idea that the present AvCraft is indeed a new company, but he will have to provide supporting documents and other information to justify that position.
Council voted 9-3 Tuesday night to hold up those funds and a new, reduced rent lease agreement until AvCraft and the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (MBREDC) make a presentation to council’s Committee of the Whole (COW) on the benefits to the county of moving forward with the deal.
Council members voted to approve the incentive package in December 2011. However, the approval was for a code named business. Most council members did not realize the recipient was AvCraft Technical Services until that was publicly announced two weeks after the vote.
When the recipient was announced as AvCraft, the company’s past failures to meet goals and promises hit the media. A majority of council decided to reconsider the approval at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.
Reconsideration was approved by a 9-3 vote with the stipulation that AvCraft and MBREDC make a presentation to the Committee of the Whole next week with supporting documents and information to justify the new incentive package.
None of the council members desire to vote against economic development, but they also have no desire to throw good money after bad. AvCraft has a history of failing to keep promises to provide new, high paying jobs in the county. Hill must now prove to council why this time the results will be different.
Council member Jody Prince, who moved to reconsider the incentive package, noted he was not against business development but he needed to hear more before continuing to support incentive money for AvCraft.
“I do have a fear that anyone who has plugged into a media outlet in the last several weeks has gotten a history lesson about this company,” said Prince. “I think there are certainly other sides to this story. The last thing I want to do is jeopardize investment (in economic development). I request you tell me about the new AvCraft at the January 17th COW meeting.”
Prince added this was an opportunity for the company to make council and all of Horry County “feel warm and fuzzy” about the investment. Prince said it was an opportunity for the company and MBREDC to “sell us all” as they have evidently sold some.
Council member Carl Schwartzkopf, who seconded the motion to reconsider, told news channel 15, after the vote, he needed to see AvCraft’s financial plan, business plan and marketing plan before deciding to support the incentive package.
Council member Brent Schulz said a presentation at the COW meeting provided the company the opportunity to explain “the difference between what happened (in the past), what’s happening today and what is the future.”
Council member Harold Worley, requested AvCraft bring a pro forma to the COW meeting including how, when and where it proposes to spend the incentive money.
After the vote, MBREDC chief executive Brad Lofton and council chairman Tom Rice blamed the reconsideration vote on politics.
Lofton made several statements to media outlets after the vote. He said MBREDC spent a year vetting this project and the SC Department of Commerce has vetted this project and provided incentives. He said MBREDC was moving forward with expansion with the incentive provided by the state, focusing on business not politics.
There are several problems with Lofton’s statement. Lofton was only employed by MBREDC in March 2011. He has not been in the county for a year yet, so he could not have been vetting AvCraft for a year. The state agreed to provide a $100,000 incentive package to AvCraft only if matched by local money.
Lofton claims that the AvCraft incentive package is not about politics. Yet, during the council meeting, Lofton sat between MBREDC board chairman Doug Wendel and board member Robert Rabon, two major political lightning rods in Horry County. The three maintained a whispered conversation during discussion of the reconsideration motion.
According to council members, Wendel, Rabon, Rice and Worley lobbied heavily against reconsideration prior to the meeting.
“They were really working some council members over before the meeting,” said one council member speaking on terms of anonymity.
However, when the vote was taken, Worley, James Frazier and Gary Loftus were the three council members who voted against reconsideration. Rice abandoned that position in public.
Rice is a candidate for the new 7th Congressional District with jobs as his major campaign focus. Wendel is Rice’s campaign finance chief while Rabon is the presumptive heir, reportedly having Wendel’s support, to Rice’s position as council chairman if Rice is elected to Congress. And this is not about politics?
Whether Lofton realizes it or not, he, Rice and AvCraft are in the midst of an intensive course, Horry County Politics 101.
Lofton and Hill now have the opportunity to move the AvCraft decision out of the political arena and into the area of a business presentation that can help council to make an informed decision about the incentive package.
The Committee of the Whole will meet Tuesday January 17, 2012 at the conference room at Myrtle Beach International Airport. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m.