EcoDual's future in Beaufort uncertain, county incentives on hold

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comNovember 16, 2013 

Beaufort County officials hoped buying an $850,000 device for EcoDual would be enticement enough for the company to build a permanent plant here.

But now it's unclear whether the firm plans to stay, and the purchase of the machine is in limbo.

County officials learned in August during a meeting with EcoDual representatives that they would continue to consider incentives offered by suitors elsewhere. That meeting came just seven weeks after EcoDual's arrival was trumpeted in a public ceremony that included county, state and Beaufort officials.

"They were honest with us," county administrator Gary Kubic said. "They advised us that they had a switch in management, and they were looking at their long-term business plan. They had indicated that there was some possibility that they may want to pursue opportunities in other areas."

EcoDual executives broke the news during a meeting with Kubic, County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville, county attorney Josh Gruber, and Kim Statler and Jessica Bridges of the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, which helped broker the deal.

The company has not yet received formal offers from other places, chief financial officer Anant Vashi said Thursday. However, it is in talks with officials in Michigan and the Detroit area, where EcoDual CEO Mike Donoughe is based.

"We're still here in Beaufort, but I don't think any final determinations have been made," Vashi said. "But startups are very dynamic. Especially as a young company with a new product; you have to be dynamic."

The two-year-old company makes conversion kits that allow diesel trucks to run on a mixture of diesel and natural gas. In return for an incentive package from state and county government, EcoDual pledged to create 307 jobs in five years and build a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant within two years.

Losing the company to another area would be disappointing, Sommerville said. "It would be sad because (the S.C. Department of) Commerce and us put a lot of work in, and we were willing to step up."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Commerce would not comment on specifics of the deal.

"It's a sad loss if it's true that they're leaving," Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said. "The incentives game is so huge."

Although neither Kubic, Sommerville nor Keyserling have received official word from EcoDual, all three said they have the impression the company will move.

"We hadn't given up hope, but I certainly got that impression," Sommerville said. "When you're talking to somebody you get a sense of what they're doing and where they're going."

Although it would be disappointing to see the company go, the incentives at the local level won't change, Statler said.

"We feel like we've put our most aggressive and best package forward and hope that they will look to Beaufort favorably," Statler said. "I feel confidently that we've done everything we can do."

In June, Beaufort County promised to buy an $850,000 piece of equipment to snag a then-unidentified company that the Lowcountry Economic Alliance was attempting to woo. The effort was given the code name "Project Robot."

At a news conference in June, the county announced that EcoDual was the target and that an engine-testing device called a dynamometer was the equipment the county had agreed to purchase. The county would own the machinery and allow other companies interested in testing engines here to use it.

EcoDual also would receive incentives from the S.C. Department of Commerce based on job-development benchmarks that have not yet been finalized. Kubic said the county also will use those benchmarks to determine when -- or if -- the county will purchase the dynamometer, which the company could use to test more engines and grow its business.

"There is zero expenditure on (EcoDual incentives); we haven't spent any money," Kubic said.

Vashi said the company began reconsidering where it would put down roots after a shakeup of its management.

One week after announcing EcoDual's plans in Beaufort, company founder Scott Myers, who lives in Beaufort, stepped down. EcoDual replaced him with Donoughe, an automotive industry professional and former vice president at Tesla and Chrysler.

Myers is now CEO of Econovation Systems Inc., which provides natural gas refueling stations for rail and trucking markets and is also based in Beaufort, according to Myer's LinkedIn profile. Attempts to reach Myers on Friday were unsuccessful.

For now, EcoDual will continue to operate out of a garage at 9 Pin Drop Road and an office at 1001 Bay St. Ten employees work in Beaufort, and the maintenance garage on Pin Drop Road serves as the company's distribution center, Vashi said. The company will not disclose how many units it has shipped, but another 10 employees work in cities around the country in different capacities, such as sales, he added.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

Related content:

County's EcoDual incentives called 'unusual' June 29, 2013

EcoDual names new president, June 26, 2013

EcoDual: When will the jobs come to Beaufort County? June, 22, 2013

Beaufort company to add 300 jobs in expansion to commerce park, June 20, 2013

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