By Paul Gable
The real reason for the big secret called Project Blue by the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation may have surfaced Monday when myhorrynews.com, the website for Waccamaw Publishers, broke a story on the shady past of David L. Rocker.
According to documents provided to Horry County Council, Rocker is listed as the Chief Operating Officer of Covation Holdings, a startup Georgia company that is trying to land a call center jobs project in the Carolina Forest area. However, last night the EDC was trying to spin Rocker as merely a consultant on the project.
Whatever the truth is behind Rocker’s participation, his past difficulties should raise some eyebrows about whether the county should be risking public dollars on a project which has, so far, been much hype with very little substance.
The website article (link below) did a great job of exposing Rocker’s past, which includes fines and a stay in federal prison for income tax fraud. When he was released from federal prison, Rocker spent five years as COO of Avail Workforce of Atlanta, Ga.
Rocker’s stay with Avail ended after a disagreement with company owner Katherine Henson over non-payment of corporate federal taxes and a messy love triangle, which ended in a murder-suicide in May 2006. The story is told in the below linked Money magazine article.
According to the Waccamaw Publishers story, EDC president Brad Lofton and Horry County Council chairman Tom Rice both said they knew nothing of Rocker’s background.
This is especially surprising in the case of Lofton, who was working in Georgia at the time. The story was statewide news in Georgia because of the rapid rise to high profile of Avail Workforce. Of course, Lofton was having his own problems at the time as CEO of the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority (see link below), so maybe he missed it.
Should due diligence conducted on a project extend to investigation of the background of the company’s COO? The COO is, at least, the third ranking company officer and probably the officer most involved in the day to day operations of the company.
Maybe it was too difficult for EDC. A quick view of Rocker’s internet website (link below) yields inflated rhetoric with no supporting details, much like the Covation project itself. A cursory reading seems to make the Avail association the highlight of Rocker’s career.
However, checking Covation on the internet results in the name being used in a failed 2009 call center deal in Hickory, NC. (link below) While the company officials have changed, Rocker’s father, Bill Rocker, is listed as CEO of the failed project.
From the beginning, Project Blue has sounded much like past high rhetoric projects for economic development associated with Barry Landreth and the Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corporation and Ben Bartel, AvCraft and Horry County. The only difference is Rocker went to jail before becoming tied to a local project while Landreth and Bartel went to jail after their local connections.
If these guys want to bring alleged jobs projects to Horry County, fine. The problems begin when they want millions of public dollars in incentives to do so.
According to statements to city council at the time, Doug Wendel and Franklin Daniels, then both of Burroughs and Chapin, Inc. now EDC board members, and David Sebok executive director of DRC did a background check of Landreth before hiring him as a consultant for DRC. It wasn’t until after media reports surfaced of inaccuracies in background information provided by Landreth that B&C pulled the plug on the deal that would have redeveloped the former Pavilion site among others in the downtown district.
Bartel was creative in the background he provided to Horry County when he promised to create 400 high paying jobs in the local economy. A little checking by local media uncovered he had defaulted on economic development incentives in Tyler, Texas and a supposed airplane production line startup in Germany was in real trouble. Horry County went ahead with incentives to Bartel anyway without ever realizing more than the 50 AvCraft jobs he brought with him to Horry County.
Just like Landreth and Bartel, I can’t see where the principals of Project Blue have much of a personal investment in the project, but they apparently expect Horry County to bring up front public money to the deal.
We have the promise of 1,000 call center jobs by Covation. That’s great! Nobody is against 1,000 more jobs in the county.
But, let this company demonstrate they can really close the deal (Covation has no signed contract with AT&T for an Horry County call center at this time) before county council commits $1.25 million public dollars in upfront money and another $8 million public dollars in future promises.
Public dollars should be used, if at all, as a reward for performance, not as a closing fund to clinch deals that may have very little promise of success.
Perform first! Then, be rewarded with some type of tax breaks, if necessary.
Require an initial investment by the principals! Don’t give away public dollars to act in its place.
Any council member who votes for third reading of this project’s incentives in present form is not acting in accordance with the fiduciary responsibilities with which they are charged.
Waccamaw Publishers story: http://myhorrynews.com/v2/content.aspx?ID=52918&MemberID=2156
Covation (Hickory) story: http://www.wbtv.com/story/10821948/plans-for-call-center-on-hold?redirected=true
Rocker’s website: http://davidlrocker.wordpress.com/