Researching Lofton

Photo Credit: The Myrtle Beach Digitel/Creative Commons

By Paul Gable

In the wake of county council’s reconsideration of incentives and reduced rent to AvCraft at Tuesday night’s regular meeting of council, Brad Lofton, chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, told the Myrtle Beach Sun News other companies would be watching the treatment of AvCraft.

According to the Sun News story, Lofton said businesses that consider setting up shop in Horry County will undoubtedly research the area and see how it treats existing industry. In addition, Lofton said other prospects that MBREDC is talking to are monitoring the AvCraft situation and awaiting the outcome.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it seemed appropriate to research Lofton’s past in other locations to determine how he performed.

In October 2004, just after being hired as President and CEO of the Effingham (GA) County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority, Lofton was listed as one of the best and brightest young Georgians by Business Trend Magazine.

By June 13, 2006, Lofton was gone from the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority. Lofton told the Savannah Morning News that authority lawyer Mickey Kicklighter came to Lofton’s office and told him to resign immediately or be fired.

Lofton also said he had never talked to the board about this move. Kicklighter waited for Lofton to remove his personal items and escorted him off the property.

According to the Morning News article, Lofton’s firing ended a tumultuous year during which the development authority threatened eminent domain before purchasing 2,700 acres of land from International Paper for $40 million of public money; took part in a controversial rezoning in southwest Effingham and went to court to determine whether it could be exempted from county building regulations.

Two weeks after his firing, board members of the IDA took out an ad in the newspaper in which they alleged Lofton promised more than $5.5 million in “gifts” to potential development prospects without board approval.

Lofton responded that he took no action without approval of the board and the gifts referred to an offer of land to a prospect.

According to a 2010 article, the land was still undeveloped and the taxpayers were paying off the $40 million public money secured debt.

Lofton moved to Valdosta Lowndes County Industrial Authority as the agency’s director in August 2006. During his tenure at VLCIA, Lofton got the city and county to add 1 mill of tax dedicated for funding the authority. The county bonded $15 million of that dedicated funding to purchase 577 acres of land that Lofton attempted to use to lure a biomass incinerator plant to Valdosta.

The biomass project encountered serious local opposition, including a charge of economic discrimination since the incinerator would have been located in the immediate vicinity of a black neighborhood. The biomass project failed to come to fruition and according to local residents, the land sits empty while the bonds are being paid off with public tax dollars.

When Lofton was vetted by a local selection committee, nothing came up to Lofton’s detriment, according to one local leader who spoke on conditions of anonymity. The official said they couldn’t recall any mention of the $5.5 million in gifts or the public advertisement placed by the Effingham IDA board.

MBREDC board chairman Doug Wendel was reported to have told selection committee members that the biomass project had also had the support of many environmental groups and Lofton had handled the situation well.

However, Leigh Touchton, four term president of the Valdosta NAACP branch, said Lofton claimed that environmental groups endorsed the biomass plant, but that those groups had written letters to the investment authority board “disabusing Brad’s statements.”

“Brad Lofton only listens to the opinions of industry,” said Touchton. “He does not do due diligence on projects. He is one of the least professional industrial development executives in the business.”

Touchton said the local community is also currently gearing up to fight the construction of a privately funded and operated prison. The prison project was initiated by Lofton, according to Touchton.

“The prison may become Brad Lofton’s legacy to Valdosta,” said Touchton.

Lofton had success in bringing some jobs to both Effingham and Valdosta, but his failures appear to have caused considerable public turmoil and public debt.

When Lofton was introduced to county council, chairman Tom Rice gave glowing reports of Lofton’s past accomplishments. However, council members say no mention of the Effingham firing was made and only passing mention of some opposition to the Valdosta biomass project.

Horry County Council has already dedicated 1 mill of property tax to funding MBREDC. Fortunately to date, no purchases of land have been funded with bonds.

The AvCraft project did not meet the county’s defined minimum standards to qualify for incentive funding. The next planned project announcement, currently identified as AF-2, also does not meet minimum standards and will require council approval.

The first two projects from the “new” EDC are local employers promising to expand if significant financial incentives of one sort or another are provided. That’s probably better than a prison, environmentally damaging biomass plant or $40 million land purchase with nothing to show for it.

Regardless of how the AvCraft decision is finalized, it would be a good idea for county council to pay close attention to the details of proposed economic development projects and to remain the final arbiter on their approval. This is especially true of projects where public funds are used as incentives.

 

 

 

11 Comments

  1. Apparently now that Mr. Gables has found himself in the embarassing political position of standing in the way of new high paying jobs in Horry County, he last desperate attempt is to attack people personally. Lazy, liberal journalism at its best people.

  2. Is this the same reporter that can’t find a job anywhere in town?

  3. Pingback: Who is MBREDC’s Brad Lofton?

  4. Apparently, some of you prefer the “reporters” on the Grand Strand who would just take news releases from Lofton and Rice, maybe change a few words here and there, and call that journalism.

  5. Who is paying this reporter to bad mouth and fuss about any and all good things hapopening in Horry County? We haven’t even had a whisper of economic development in ten years and this guy comes in with a round of new projects! Surely this must offend Gable as he sits comfortably behind his desk while 10% of our population is jobless. This guy should get on board, or out of the way.

  6. Sounds like the guy has a pretty good resume to me. I’m glad he’s here. Paul, I’m sure you and Marion Foxworth could do a better job?

  7. I’d like to elaborate on my experience with Mr. Lofton. He repeatedly stated that Sierra Club endorsed biomass as a “renewable” form of energy. We kept telling him that he was incorrect, and finally Colleen Kiernan of Georgia Sierra wrote a very strongly worded letter to our Industrial Authority on the extremely negative environmental costs associated with the type of biomass incineration that Mr. Lofton was endorsing for Lowndes County. In addition to burning wood, the plant was going to burn human sewage. The plant was sited next to a predominantly black community that had already been designated an Environmental Justice community by the EPA precisely because the residents were already subject to higher than average rates of air pollution. Mr. Lofton kept assuring the community that the Georgia EPD claimed the incinerator was “safe”(even though the community and the 4 elementary schools and nursing home had already been designated by the EPA as a community already burdened with more than its fair share of pollution). THEN when the local NAACP raised the issue of environmental racism, (it’s still on our website, http://www.valdostanaacp.com) Mr. Lofton went on the radio and complained that I had personally attacked him as a “racist” (I hope he’s since educated himself on the issue, it is also called Environmental Justice). THEN a local man wrote an email to Mr. Lofton accusing me of being the KKK and stating that “he would have less chance dying by joining the KKK than joining the NAACP under my leadership.” Mr. Lofton responded to the man by thanking him for his support of “jobs for minorities” and then he hit “reply all” so that the email was transmitted to numerous business leaders, politicians, as well as the NAACP state leadership. I’ve been called a lot of things, but never the KKK nor had a public official send out an email to that effect on his offical county email account. THEN Mr. Lofton invited a “scientist” named Christopher Teaf from FSU to present to our community how “safe” biomass was, and the Industrial Authority paid the “scientist” $6,000 (of our tax dollars) to deliver this presentation. Dr. Teaf had previously delivered testimonials to the EPA about the safety of arsenic-treated wood in playground equipment, the EPA subsequently banned arsenic-treated wood from playground equipment. All of this information was garnered in 10 minutes of internet research and would have saved at least $6,000 in tax dollars wasted to bring a corporate mouthpiece to our community. Mr. Lofton ignored vast amounts of research and position statements from American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, the afore-mentioned Sierra Club, our nation’s EPA, several pediatrics, geriatrics, and physicians’ groups too numerous to mention…. I could give many more examples of the lack of due diligence that Valdosta experienced under Mr. Lofton’s tenure, when I spoke to one previous Industrial Authority board member (Gary Minchew) about Mr. Lofton’s very public firing in Effingham County, Mr. Minchew said “I wasn’t a Brad Lofton fan but at least I didn’t think we’d have to light a fire under his butt.” Not exactly the type of endorsement I expected to hear from an elected official about a county employee paid with our taxes, Mr. Lofton made over $100,000 here in Valdosta. NOW we have to fight a private for-profit prison (CCA) and preliminary research once again indicates an appalling lack of due diligence. Valdosta wants to become a tourism and retirement mecca, not easy to do with smokestacks on the horizon or razor-wire human rights abusive prisons lowering property values. I hope the citizens of Myrtle Beach will organize and demand that their economic leadership only bring corporations that are an asset, not a drawback, to the Myrtle Beach community. My opinion is that any opinion rendered publicly by Mr.Lofton needs to be thoroughly and independently vetted and verified before people accept it at face value.

  8. According to my research on this lady, she was fired from her teaching position from the local university, lacks the support from 95% of the local NAACP members she serves, was caught in a bald face lie claiming the local economic development group was locating a plant in a minority area (census #s are pretty hard to dispute… even for her), and is the laughing stock of the community. I stand behind Mr. Lofton, his background, his job creation resume and look forward to his leadership. After reading of her incredibly colorful and embarrassing background, I would be more concerned for Mr. Lofton if she DID support him.

  9. This woman sounds crazier than a run over dog. There are crazies and irrational people in every community. Think she needs to mind her own business and quit embarrassing herself.

  10. Fiscal Responsibility

    I don’t know about your “research skills” but let’s set some things straight:

    1) Leigh Touchton was not “fired”. Her contract was not renewed. Why? Because of her involvement with the “Living Wage Campaign” which sought better compensation for hourly employees at the university. That decision to “fire” Mrs. Touchton ultimately cost the university $100,000. (See http://www.accessnorthgeorgia.com/detail.php?n=196609&c=2)

    2) Having had my own experiences with Mr. Lofton I would highly recommend to research his background. One way to start is a local blog: http://lake.typepad.com/.services/blog/6a0120a58214e4970b0120a5d894f5970c/search?filter.q=Brad+Lofton

    3) The article you are criticizing very much describes a recurring pattern of Mr. Lofton’s career … and if experiences in Effingham County and Valdosta are any indication he will be gone from Myrtle Beach by the end of this year. Good riddance!

    4) Last but not least, Mr. Lofton’s last “masterpiece” in Valdosta and part of his infamous legacy (the private prison project) was defeated too, just as was the biomass plant.

    So before you talk down this article, his author or Mrs. Touchton … do your work!

  11. Dear Mr. Gable,

    Would you please access the address of the person who wrote that last comment? Because publishing that someone is crazy is a libelous accusation, it is actually referred to as libel per se, I do not even have to prove damages. If you’ll let me know the identity of the individual who wrote it (and I am pretty sure I know who it is) I would love to file a lawsuit against him for libel per se, Thank you so much,
    Leigh Touchton
    Valdosta, GA

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