By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
Monday, January 7, 2013 —
The Clean Tech Mississippi project is dead, but there may be an attempt to bring it back to Stanly County.
The company, now doing business as Silicor Materials, did not meet the Columbus-Lowndes, Mississippi Development LINK’s deadline of midnight New Year’s Eve to deposit $150,000 into an escrow account.
The escrow, which would have been refundable if construction began in June, served to guarantee Silicor the site along with $75 million in state incentives and $19 million in local incentives that had been approved for the project.
During an interview last month with a state business journal, Silicor Executive Chairman John Correnti said he has never paid an escrow on any project.
“If people don’t have the patience for it, so be it,” Correnti said.
In the same article, Correnti suggested he would wait until newly-installed North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory came into office to rethink the possibilities of using the ALCOA plant in Badin. McCrory was sworn-in on Saturday.
“I was just going to wait until after the new governor took office and got his cabinet in place and then visit with ALCOA and see if it’s worth reloading the gun,” Correnti said in the article.
The Mississippi economic development director Silicor had been working with says the state and Stanly County should be cautious if such an offer comes back through.
“These guys are bad, bad, bad dishonorable people,” said Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK.
“These guys will lie when the truth would do much better.”
Higgins told the SNAP last month it was time for the company to “put up or shut up” and his irritation comes through when he describes how Silicor has handled the Mississippi project.
Lowndes County became interested in the project when Calisolar, another one of Clean Tech’s entities, was working on putting a plant in Ontario, Ohio.
That Ohio deal put up almost $400 million in incentives. But the company pulled out and announced it would go to the Mississippi site.
The company then announced it would locate a two-phase project in the Lowndes County industrial park that would create more than 900 jobs after completion of the second phase.
It would have included a silicon metal production plant, a silicon purification plant and a silicon solar panel plant.
Work was supposed to have begun in September, but the company continued to miss deadlines set by the local county commission.
Silicor officials blamed a lack of funding for the delays referring to the inability to get commitments from European bankers.
However, despite the fact that Silicor told local officials in June they had the financing in hand, Higgins said during a meeting in November just the opposite was discovered.
“We met with KFW (a German-owned development bank) and discovered Silicor had not even filled out the paperwork to get the financing,” Higgins said.
He said the financiers said it could take until April to complete the process and that is when the $150,000 escrow deal was offered.
“They told us then they would take the project and leave,” Higgins said.
“Trying to be nice, we then took out the requirement milestones and said the $150,000 would hold the property until June 30. People need to remember we were holding on to more electricity than is required by the entire city of Columbus and 500,000 gallons of sewer a day capacity. That was keeping us from getting any prospects during that waiting period. We had to have some form of real commitment.”
During the wait, Higgins said his department incurred more than $250,000 in expenses as well as the inability to market the site to other potential businesses.
“We had two other silicon plants ready to go, but because we couldn’t guarantee the sewer capacity, they’re gone,” Higgins said.
“Silicor’s representatives went to local civic groups and spoke about their plans and I wonder how you live with lies like that,” Higgins said.
He said he is asked how the local economic board got entangled in the situation.
“When the state legislature calls a special session to approve $75 million for a project, you just assume the state has thoroughly vetted everything,” Higgins said.
But he said once the final deadline was broken there was no need to fret over the matter.
“Times aren’t bad enough to put up with people and garbage like that when there’s very good deals out there,” Higgins said.
“We’re marketing the site again and glad to have the sewer and electricity off the mark.”
He said there were lessons learned from the deals should local leaders want to hear any re-approaches from the company.
“You shouldn’t have any definitive agreements without assuring the funding is there,” Higgins said.
“And you have to have oversight because they can’t be trusted.”
County Commissioner Lindsey Dunevant said any thought of Silicor coming back is purely speculative.
“I think their missing the deadline in Mississippi seems to me to say the commission made the right decision in December 2011,” Dunevant.
Stanly County Economic Director Paul Stratos said Silicor has not made any contact with the county.
He added he had been following the story and can appreciate the frustrations expressed by his Mississippi counterpart, but adds checking a company’s financial viability is at the top of the check list when recruiting new businesses.
“When we recruit businesses for Stanly County, we use due diligence to ensure the potential business has the financial means to have the greatest potential for success,” Stratos said.
“There are a lot of hurdles for a company to pass through with state regulations before we could even begin to discuss any sort of local incentives.”