Some Beaufort County Council members say withholding the name of a company policymakers publicly committed $750,000 to recruit is part of doing business behind closed doors.
“If we say no, they go somewhere else,” council chairman Paul Sommerville said Thursday.
Council approved the money in a resolution passed last week for the company to invest in the property. The company has been identified only as “Project Eagle,” described as an international manufacturing company, and is expected to be revealed early next year.
Another resolution will then go before the council with the company’s name included. The grant is contingent upon the company investing $2.5 million here and creating 41 high-paying jobs.
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Those terms will be part of an agreement county administrators negotiate with the company. The money will not be released until the agreement is signed, which is expected at the time of the manufacturer’s public announcement early next year, deputy county administrator Josh Gruber said.
The company asked county officials during closed-door meetings for its name to be withheld until it is ready to publicly announce the news, and County Council agreed.
“The name of the company will be made available in due time,” said Bill McBride, who is in his final month on the council. “Not that we’re hiding anything from you, we just can’t release the information at this time.”
Gruber said last week that the public knows everything but the name, including how much money the company will get and the terms of the deal. The company asked for time to tell employees of its plans.
“Sometimes a company has to go through and do a couple things,” Councilman Stu Rodman said. “We just honored that.”
Withholding the name of the company is probably within county officials’ rights, longtime S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender said last week. But he added that secrecy in economic development deals is designed to keep taxpayers in the dark and only benefits companies pitting government entities against each other.
The project has been in the works since early in the year in a deal involving the county, state Department of Commerce and Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, the county’s economic development representative.
The manufacturer is targeting the former Minster Machine building at 134 Parker Drive, Councilman Brian Flewelling said last week. Minster made metalworking equipment and announced plans to close in 2010 after 30 years in northern Beaufort County.
Those who have worked to recruit the new manufacturer said identifying the company too soon will threaten the deal, though public money has been publicly committed.
The attorney representing the company in the deal said Wednesday revealing his client would be “disastrous” for the manufacturer and could affect plans.
A representative of Binswanger, the real estate firm that has marketed the property, asked a reporter not to dig into the company’s identity “for risk of scaring them off.”
“We don’t want to jeopardize this project, as it would be a very good thing for the county and region,” Shaun Kirchin, of Binswanger’s Columbia office, wrote in an email.