Wilmington, New Hanover to vote on secretive $200k incentive package for unnamed software company
The confidential agreement is protected by state statute and, while the law requires the city and county to hold public hearings, virtually no information about the deal has been released to the public.
On Monday, the county will consider a $120,000 grant and on Tuesday the city will consider a $80,000 grant; both would be paid over a 5-year period. The grants are tied to a promise of creating 104 jobs paying an average annual salary of $80,000.
According to a city spokesperson, "[the] City of Wilmington is one of several entities including New Hanover County and the State of North Carolina negotiating an economic development agreement, which, if successful, would bring a significant number of high wage jobs to our community and greatly benefit our economy."
According to city and county meeting agenda documents, the incentive is being requested by Wilmington Business Development (CEO Scott Satterfield will present to the county on Monday). These document also note that the software company already has a Wilmington-area facility that would be expanded; the company's proposed expansion is tied to something called "Project Manage" (although details about what that might be have not been released).
City council members and county commissioners have been briefed on the project — including the "company name, its operating status, current employees, and the company’s job creation goals over the next four years."
The public, however, is not privy to this information since the proposed agreement is — according to the city and county — protected under G.S. 132-6(d) which, according to a city spokesperson, "exempts the release of information (including a company’s name) related to the proposed expansion or location of specific business or industrial projects."
Once an incentive is approved — or the company decides not to accept a deal — that exemption ends.
State law requires public hearings for economic incentives to be noticed at least 10 days prior. According to the county, it noticed the meeting in the Star News — however, it did not announce it to the media as it does with most other hearing (for example, rezonings, budget consideration, joint meetings with other boards, etc.). The county also did not post the public hearing on its Public Notice website. Likewise the city does not appear to have alerted the media or posted a notice of the hearing online.
Jessica Loeper, chief communication officer, explained the county's reasoning for this:
"The county’s practice is for the Legal Department to manage legally-required public notices that, by statute, must be advertised in a newspaper. That often includes finance-related items, economic development investments, incentives, etc. It is not the legal practice to publish those public notices online or to disseminate those out to media. So this incentive public notice followed the same practice that is typically employed."
"There are times, if a project or program is highly-visible in the community and needs additional context than just a notice in the paper, that we would send that out (for instance, the proposed HHS Board Health Rule, Government Center development agreement, etc.). But the typical public notice we send out via our online system is for Commissioner meeting changes/updates, as well as other boards. Those notices have to be posted on the principal bulletin board of the public body and disseminated to the local media, but are not statutorily required to be paid legal notices like those that our legal department manages from Finance, Planning, and others."
The county confirmed it has not considered a similar confidential incentive proposal in recent years.
- New Hanover County's public hearing will take place during the Board of Commissioners meeting, held in the historic downtown courthouse, starting at 9 a.m. on Monday, September 20.
- Wilmington's public hearing will take place during the regular city council meeting, held at City Hall starting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 21.
Below: New Hanover County meeting agenda (incentive proposal beings on page 16) and City of Wilmington proposal.