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Frank Mann
Larry Kiker

Lee County contracts: VR labs and ‘Company A’

Jobs

» VR Labs is supposed to create 208 jobs by Dec. 31, 2016, at an average wage of $66,850.
» Company A should hire 350 employees by Sept. 30, 2015, and another 350 employees could be hired. Employees average pay will top $102,000.
Capital investment

» VR required to spend $9 million on a facility by Sept. 1.
» Company A required to spend $46.25 million on facility by Sept. 30, 2015, for $2 million in county funds or $60 million for $4 million.
obligations

» County agreed to pay VR $5 million
» County would agree to pay Company A up to $4 million and contribute up to $600,000 more through a state tax rebate program.
Payout details

» VR Labs should have collected Lee’s money based on actual receipts and invoices for capital improvements.
» Company A would receive first $2 million once it spends $46.25 million on building a facility and hires 350 employees; second $2 mllion would be paid after company hires 700 employees and spends $60 million.
Source: Lee County’s VR Labs contract and proposed contract with Company A

If you go

Lee County’s commission meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday inside commission chambers, 2120 Main St., Fort Myers.

Five questions about ‘company a’

1. Why can’t the county name the company? Florida Sunshine laws allows private companies to request confidentiality for certain records relating to plans to locate or relocate in Florida.
2. What do we know about the company? It’s a Fortune 500 company with a household name and 30,000 employees worldwide.
3. When will the name be announced? If the county approves the $4 million and the state approves up to $12 million the company most likely will make its announcement by the middle of May.
4. What will the company build? A 3-story, 300,000 square foot company headquarters that would house up to 700 employees. The company would pay $900,000 a year in property taxes.
5. Where will it build? It’s anybody’s guess, but local real estate experts believe it would be somewhere along Interstate 75 or near the airport.

More

Lee County commissioners said staff will need to answers questions before they consider approving a $4 million job stimulus grant for a company that wants to keep its name secret from them.

While Commissioners Larry Kiker, Tammy Hall, Cecil Pendergrass and Frank Mann have questions, they said they wouldn’t rule out voting to approve the award Tuesday for a company that promises to create as many as 700 jobs in exchange for up to $4 million from Lee’s general fund.

“At the end of the day, I think the board is probably going to vote for it,” Kiker said Saturday. “But I didn’t care for the process, that’s for sure.”

Kiker said he believes at least one commissioner should have been delegated to learn the company’s name and participate in the deal.

Economic Development Director Jim Moore said Thursday that secrecy was an essential part of negotiations that could entice the Fortune 500 company to move its headquarters from another state.

Company representatives, Moore said, need to know the money is in place before they announce plans to their employees.

Mann said Saturday he’s concerned about sending $4 million to an unnamed company and he’ll look to county staff Tuesday for answers.

“I don’t know if I’m prepared to say it’s a deal-breaker, but it’s very troubling to me,” Mann said.

The state will have to kick in about another $12 million to entice the company, Moore said.

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, has said she’s playing a lead role to help secure the funding.

VR Labs haunts

Despite state support, commissioners want answers to questions about Lee’s contract.

“If the company is not successful, how do we claw back all of our money,” is one the questions Hall said Friday she plans to ask before voting Tuesday.

Unlike Lee’s contract with VR Labs, which took $4.7 million in county funds before meeting employment goals or opening a facility, Tuesday’s proposed contract would require the company reach benchmarks before it collects Lee’s dollars.

VR Labs’ planned bottling facility sits empty and unfinished. The deadline to hire 40 employees was extended, after the company only reported nine on its payroll last year.

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Under Tuesday’s proposed agreement, Lee wouldn’t pay out the first $2 million until after the company posts 350 employees to its local payrolls and spends $46.25 million on a 300,000-square-foot facility, according to Lee’s proposed contract and Moore.

The company would be required to maintain those positions for four years, according to the proposed contract.

Pendergrass said he wants to know what happens if the company has layoffs before four years expire or some other unforeseen event arises.

“I want to make sure we’re protected,” Pendergrass said. “We have some recourse to get the money back if they don’t continue doing what they say they’re going to do.”

Commissioner John Manning said Friday the proposed deal sounds positive and he suspects it would spur economic development outside the company.

Lee would pay the second $2 million on a per employee basis. For every local job the company creates between 350 and 701, Lee would pay $5,714 – provided the company spends at least $60 million overall on building a headquarters.

In addition to $4 million, the company could receive up to $600,000 more from Lee by qualifying for stated administered tax refund program, according to Lee’s contract.

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