Live Oak —
A question posed by County Administrator Randy Harris at a December Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners meeting concerning catalyst site regulations turned into a discussion about confidentiality agreements between the county and a business seeking to locate in Suwannee County.
Harris briefly mentioned a business employing approximately 15-20 people is seeking to locate at the catalyst site. Local resident Lori McCraney asked for the type of industry and what would be stored at this proposed company’s site.
Dennis Cason, former president of the Suwannee County Economic Alliance, said he, nor the board, was able to render the information due to a signed confidentiality agreement between the county and the company.
“I think the public has the right to know what companies will be affecting where the people live and work,” McCraney said. “The people have a right to be a part of the process.”
The Democrat contacted Cason prior to his recent retirement and asked him about the economic development process and why a county cannot provide information about a potential company.
Suwannee Democrat (SD): What is the purpose of a confidentiality agreement between the county and
Dennis Cason (DC): A confidentiality agreement performs several functions. First and foremost it protects sensitive information from disclosure to others. For a number of reasons, companies do not want their competitors to be aware of their potential plans before they have made a final decision.
Florida Statute 288.075 (see:http://www.lawserver.com/law/state/florida/statutes/florida_statutes_288-075) provides that upon written request of the client, an economic development agency may hold as confidential certain information provided by the client. This information includes plans, intentions and interests, trade secrets and other proprietary confidential business information, etc. of the entity. Seeking this confidentiality is routinely done by businesses seeking to expand or relocate in Florida.
If a confidentiality agreement is signed and the information is revealed to another individual or company, the injured party has cause to claim a breach of contract and seek injunctive and monetary damages.
SD: Who signs the confidentiality agreement?
DC: Confidentiality agreements are signed between the state (Enterprise Florida) and the company and have been signed between the Development Authority and the company. Even if the Development Authority did not execute an agreement, the economic development officer must abide by the agreement with the state.
SD: How do the projects come about?
DC: Many potential projects are referred to the economic development officer (EDO) by Enterprise Florida, Inc. (EFI), the official economic development organization for the state whose purpose is to help innovative, high growth businesses to start up, locate or expand in Florida. Any project inquiries that the EDO receives directly are referred to EFI.
At EFI, the first step in the process is the submission by the prospective company of a General Project Overview (GPO). This document explains who they are and what they plan to do: their business plan, number of jobs they will create, wages that will be paid, the planned capital investment and much more pertinent information. The company can also submit applications for specific state incentives with this paperwork. When the GPO is signed and submitted to EFI, confidentiality is established if the company has asked for it, a code name is assigned and due diligence is begun by EFI. Not until after EFI has completed their thorough investigation into the company, are state incentives offered.
SD: What occurs between the two entities (negotiations, etc.) while in the "confidential" period?
DC: This is the time that the company will be completing their due diligence (perhaps on more than one site and possibly in more than one state). Detailed information is gathered through intense investigations to confirm all material facts and enable the company to make the best decision for their future.
The county performs due diligence of its own gathering information about the project and its potential economic impact.
Negotiations may take place concerning the possibility of local incentives which, in the past, has been considered on a case by case basis in Suwannee County.
Due diligence is a way of preventing unnecessary harm to either party involved in an economic development contract.
During this time the EDO would be acting to assist the company in its relationship with the state and local officials.
SD: When does the public typically learn of the proposed company?
DC: Generally, a non-disclosure agreement is for one year or less but it can be extended for a second year. During this period as the company does its due diligence (often on multiple sites in more than one state), they will be known only by their code name (given by EFI) and the proposed capital investment, job creation and wages information.
SD: When does the company usually give the OK to announce their plans/intentions of coming?
DC: Following the completion of all due diligence and applications for state incentives,
when they have reached the decision on a specific site.
SD: As it stands, what is in place that would give the public the opportunity to
decide if they want that business in their county?
DC: Two public hearings are held by the county to discuss the feasibility of the proposed project.
SD: Is there opportunity for the people's voice to be heard regarding that
particular company before their arrival is official?
DC: The people have the opportunity to be heard at the public hearings.