July 22, 2014

Water

Niagara Bottling's Fall

Lake County economic developers lured the company in, then spit it out.

Cynthia Barnett | 3/1/2008

Ray Gilley Opportunities:
Ray Gilley, CEO of the Metro Orlando EDC, says his role is to bring good opportunities to local government. Local government’s role, he says, is to understand and weigh a company’s benefits vs. demands on the community.
[Photo: Gregg Matthews]
A majority of local elected officials share Renick’s viewpoint. Commission Chairman Welton Cadwell, a 16-year commission veteran who was kept in the dark about the plant, says he and colleagues are stumped by how oblivious the economic developers were to the water crisis. He’s also puzzled how they could ignore the prevailing political winds — in the fall of 2006, voters had elected a more environmentally conscious board. “The communication link between the (Metro Orlando) EDC, the Lake County Economic Growth & Redevelopment office and the county had some serious flaws in it,” he says.

Hunkered down amid the blame-storm, Metro Orlando EDC officials aren’t talking much. Spokeswoman Jennifer Wakefield says EDC officials would not discuss questions related to the case — saying only that the incentives package offered to Hess did not amount to a guarantee. “We don’t make promises,” Wakefield says.

At the November meeting at which commissioners voted down the incentives, Ray Gilley, president and CEO of the Metro Orlando EDC, said he saw his role as bringing good opportunities to local government. Local government’s role, he said, is to understand and weigh a company’s benefits vs. demands on the community.

Lake County Economic Growth & Redevelopment Director Dottie Keedy says she had to keep many elected officials in the dark about Niagara. Economic developers sign strict confidentiality agreements with companies such as Niagara, and every county official she introduces to a potential company has to sign an agreement, too. “I usually don’t talk to the commission until things are pretty far along,” Keedy says. “My concern is always, the more people who know, the more difficult it is to keep quiet.”

Commissioner Renick, known for her work on water issues going back to her years on the Clermont City Council, was distraught to learn about Niagara’s plans from an Orlando Sentinel reporter rather than the county manager, who knew well her interest in water. “But when I read the confidentiality agreement, I understood,” Renick says. “You’d be scared to death to talk if you’d signed it.”

Tags: Politics & Law, Central, Agriculture, Environment, Government/Politics & Law

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