The August meeting was notable if, for no other reason, the fact that everybody was there. From left, around the table clockwise, are Peter Cervelli, executive director, board members Sharon Moore, George Nelson, Doug Anderton, Larry Moore, Chairman Nathan Wooten, County Attorney Robin Rogers and outgoing and incoming bookkeepers, respectively, Debby Pack and Caitlyn Casey.
After canceling multiple meetings recently for lack of a quorum, the Dade County Industrial Development (IDA) met last week with every chair around the table triumphantly occupied. Executive Director Peter Cervelli denied having fussed or nagged the board members into showing up, and since they are technically his bosses The Planet sees no reason to question the ED’s veracity as to this particular.
Included among the full complement at the Aug. 28 meeting was new member Sharon Moore, appointed last month by the Dade County Commission to replace real estate broker Dora Crisp, who had resigned. Ms. Moore introduced herself as a Dade homegirl who had lived in Atlanta 30 years before coming back to her roots. “I’ve opened and closed many businesses,” she said.
Questioned after the meeting about what businesses she’d opened and closed, Ms. Moore said she’d specialized in personal finance companies, among them the Courtesy Finance branch she’d been instrumental in bringing to Trenton.
Peter Cervelli took advantage of the full house to get IDA’s fiscal year 2018 budget passed, an agenda item that had had to wait from last month’s cancelled meeting. Cervelli projected $143,477 in expenditures in the upcoming year, for a negative cash flow of $60,121, leaving $366,878 in IDA’s coffers.
He explained for the benefit of those who hadn’t attended last month that the comfortable reserve had resulted from IDA’s welcome but unexpected reprieve from whopping bills from Norfolk Southern for work on a railway crossing at the new section of Dade’s industrial park. After Cervelli contested a $270,000 bill, the railroad not only agreed it had been an error but had agreed to refund $10-to $15,000 of the $83,000 IDA had already paid. “Otherwise, we’d be hurting,” he said. The budget includes about $70,000 for salaries and benefits but “no real operational dollars,” he warned; those would have to come from the county and city.
As for IDA’s income, Cervelli and IDA Chairman Nathan Wooten covered some of its sources, including leases to businesses for which IDA acts as landlord, owning their premises and renting them to the companies, and PILOTs—payments in lieu of taxes—negotiated amounts companies pay local governments in partial compensation for taxes forgiven as part of economic development deals. “Those will get larger as we go on,” said Wooten.
Cervelli and County Attorney Robin Rogers, who acts as IDA’s legal adviser, discussed IDA’s lease with Lake Region, the medical device manufacturer. IDA plans to change the lease to raise the company’s rent—currently around $1300 per month—by $53. The lawyer said he had also suggested adding an exit clause for IDA, which he said was necessary to make the lease a legally enforceable contract, but that his intentions in this regard had been misinterpreted as an effort to weaken the agreement. “We want them to stay,” he said. “How we got to this point is beyond me.”
Cervelli reminded board members to sign paperwork regarding IDA’s bond issue arrangement with Lake Region. IDA, like a county government, is able to borrow money by issuing bonds which it guarantees, in this case for the benefit of Lake Region. “They’ve run out of money to buy things,” he said. “This is the third or fourth dip into that bond issue.” Because it is an IDA bond issue, Cervelli must sign off on purchase orders every time the company buys equipment, which he indicated ate into his time.
Cervelli briefed the board members about what was new on the economic development front. He said Chattanooga-area developer Buddy Fogo had expressed interested in building “workers’ apartments” in Dade. Dade’s need for more rental housing has been stressed in many area studies and publications.
IDA had had a visit the week before, said Cervelli, from a company that wanted about 10 acres. As a supplier to the Vanguard truck trailer manufacturing plant IDA brought to Dade in 2015, he said, the company was anxious to locate nearby.
Cervelli had no more to say about that one, but he had another hot prospect up his sleeve: “Project X,” which he said was a Taiwanese company. He said he would discuss the proposal he had drafted to offer Project X in executive, or closed-door session. Such a session was held following the regular meeting but no further mention of Project X was made subsequently.
IDA commonly gives mystery names to companies it is courting to come to Dade, keeping the corporation’s identity secret unless or until the deal has closed. Other job-starved counties across the South are also fishing for investors, competition is stiff, and offers are confidential.
About Vanguard itself, Cervelli said the company is up to 161 of the 400 employees it promised to employ as part of its deal with IDA and is still hiring. It has already met and exceeded the $30 million it had agreed to invest in the Dade facility, he said.
Cervelli said Georgia Power had installed power poles in the new part of Dade’s industrial park IDA occupies and that the gravel road there would be paved as soon as funds were available.
Cervelli also mentioned about $3000 was needed for new signs to guide truck drivers the correct way into the Vanguard plant. Drivers’ GPS systems didn’t help them in the industrial area, he said, and: “It’s the only way to guarantee they’re not going to be stopped by a train.”
He explained after the meeting that the Vanguard track crossing is near a railway switch, where a train can pass from one set of tracks to another, and that Norfolk Southern has promised this area will never be blocked by a parked train except in the direst circumstances, a crash, say. Parked trains routinely blocking the main entrance to Dade’s industrial park have long been a bone of contention between the railway and local governments.
IDA took no action about the $3000. “This might be considered a city project,” said Cervelli.
But the body did approve $7500 to extend its contract with the marketing firm NextSite 360 for a year. NextSite, as Cervelli explained last month, is a company that matches counties like Dade with retail operations looking for outlets. “We’re amateurs here,” said Cervelli. “These guys already know all these people,” said Chairman Wooten.
IDA board members Sharon Moore and George Nelson pore over a new sales brochure designed to attract retail businesses to Trenton.
Cervelli said NextSite was currently coming up with a list of companies to target for three corridors in Dade—highways 11 and 136 through Trenton and Highway 299 at the Wildwood exit on I-59—and he showed a brochure the company had produced for this purpose.
In the brochure was a summary of the area’s “retail gap,” money NextSite says Dade consumers would spend—presumably per annum--if there were businesses here to take it from them. The Planet listed a few last month, but here is a more complete list:
Full-service restaurants, $7 million; general merchandise, $7 million; department stores, $6 million; pharmacies, $5 million; limited-service restaurants, $5 million; family clothing, $2 million; automotive stores, $2 million; home centers, $2 million; sporting goods stores, $1 million; furniture stores, $1 million.
Also listed on the brochure are “Focus Properties”—prime potentially commercial pieces of real estate for sale to retailers or investors. These include, in order, parcels on McKaig Road for sale by Lisa Brown; on Highway 299 by Ted Rumley; on Industrial Bouelvard by Doug Dyer; on Highway 136 by Leroy Smith; on Main Street by Ernie Ponder; and on Highway 136 by Vickie McBryar.
Also discussed was the old Shaw spinning mill, which has sat vacant since Shaw closed operations here in autumn 2008. Cervelli and Wooten said the building has been taken off the market, but they had been unable to discern what if anything was to be done with it.
IDA meets at 3 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month in the Dade Administrative building.