On two consecutive days, The Sanford Herald grossly misstated the terms of a proposed economic development deal, reporting that Lee County was planning to invest either $126 million or $109.4 million in a privately held company in exchange for the company locating here.
The terms of the deal are wildly different. While the company – which has yet to be named publicly, although that is expected to happen on Tuesday – would under the terms of the deal invest roughly $109 million in Lee County’s tax base through a purchase and upfit of the county’s spec building at the Central Carolina Enterprise Park, and provide over 200 new jobs with an average salary of more than $80,000, the amount it would receive from city and county governments in the form of tax incentives over a seven year period is closer to $5 million.
For context, the county’s budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 is about $77 million, while the city’s is about $56 million.
“Certainly Lee County has never and will never pay a $109 million incentive to any company,” Michael Smith, CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance told The Rant when reached for comment. “The good news is that the shell building and the sign at the Central Carolina Enterprise Park are working out the way we’d hoped. A typical project for a community our size would be a company that wanted to invest $5 million and bring 50 jobs that paid $50,000. And we would be happy with that. What we’re getting lately are these astounding projects that are very different.”
The erroneous articles about the deal, dubbed “Project Jupiter” while the company’s name is still a secret, do not appear to be visible on the newspaper’s regular website. They can, however, be seen in print and on The Herald’s e-edition.