Just when you think you’ve seen every permutation of waste and abuse with your tax dollars, someone comes along and re-sets the bar of incredulity. Fortunately for the Lee County School Board’s ‘San Francisco 6’, this new story comes courtesy of the Lee County EDC. Perhaps Superintendent Moss and his band of merry school board members can sneak back into Lee County under the cover of an even more surreptitious drawdown of our diminishing tax revenues. This time, the culprits are the Lee County EDC, B Bar D Flight Training, headquartered adjacent to our jetport at 705 Rod Sullivan Road, and LSA America, a small light aircraft company now moving away from Sanford and opening afresh in Halifax County, NC.
A few years back, Doug and Betty Hempstead, owners of B Bar D and LSA America, petitioned the EDC for a loan to help their business venture get established in the Sanford area. The EDC awarded an $80,000 low interest loan to B Bar D and reported it as a light aircraft assembly company, based here in Sanford. Very little has been reported to county officials and the taxpayers who have subsidized the venture out of the small business loan revolving fund. The last official report to the EDC reportedly identified the loan as being restructured and in an “uncollectable status.” The only amount being received is a monthly $300 check for the interest on the $59,000 remaining from the original loan, now well past due.
Next comes last Wednesday’s announcement that LSA America, a company owned by the Sanford couple, is receiving a $136,000 OneNC grant in Halifax County to uplift the old Littleton building near the Halifax-Northampton Airport and open it as an aircraft production company– the very business our own Lee County EDC had indicated was being subsidized at our local Jetport, albeit under a different company name. Now that it has moved to Halifax County, the company plans to create 34 jobs and invest $400,000 during the next three years.
Halifax County Economic Development Director Cathy Scott revealed that Halifax County has been working on the project since July, 2010. Gov. Bev Perdue, a real jobs maven, was quoted as saying, “As we work every day to put more North Carolinians back to work, we have focused on creating 21st century jobs, and that includes creating an aerospace cluster in our state with companies such as LSA America. Our efforts to expand this fast-growing industry will continue to create jobs in Halifax County and around the state.” Oops, guess she forgot about the money and jobs lost in Lee County for this company to move to Halifax.
Owner Doug Hempstead stated, “LSA America is very pleased to establish production of its Allegro Light Sport Aircraft in North Carolina with its rich aviation history. Halifax County offers growth potential and a very capable employee base. The incentives and dedicated people we worked with made North Carolina and Halifax County an easy choice. We look forward to growing our production in the coming days.” No regrets leaving Sanford and our Jetport behind, huh Dougie? What happened? We didn’t put enough skin in the game? The $80,000 and a re-structured loan arrangement weren’t good enough?
I could go on with this article ad infinitum. But I won’t. Let us suffice it to say we’ve been had. The Lee County EDC didn’t do its job in first vetting this organization and ensuring the loan was for a valid company seeking to grow and expand is employment base in Lee County. Next, the company appears to have shaken us down for around $60K (the amount still owed) so they could pursue a sweeter location to operate from. And finally, the State of NC– in its inimitable blindness –appears to have failed in its due diligence by planning to fork over at least another $136,000 to the owners of this company who claim to be too poor to pay their debt to Lee County.
Here’s what I say– IMMEDIATELY CALL THE LOAN! Get our money back now, Bob Heuts! And while you’re at it, let the local DA know we may have some borderline fraud going on in this matter.