Cleveland County commissioners took a bit of an unusual vote Tuesday night at a public hearing. The commission approved tax incentives to lure a new business to Shelby—that part’s pretty standard. The strange part is that they don’t know what the business does.
Commissioners and documents just refer to the company as Project Gnome. Even commission chairman Ronald Hawkins doesn’t know the identity.
“I prefer not to know the details about the project, other than that there will be jobs [and] they will be good jobs,” Hawkins says.
We know a bit more: the company hails from Kentucky, and if it accepts the deal, it will agree to create 94 jobs at an average salary of $21,000. That salary is around half the county’s median household income, and some objected to the low wages in return for public assistance. But, Hawkins, and the commission voted to approve them.
“We’re coming from a textile county that’s lost probably 4,000 jobs since 2000,” he says. “Any jobs that we can get, I’m very much happy they’re looking at us.”
The county, in return, is offering to rebate the company 60 percent of its property tax for five years, provided the company creates those jobs and invests about $5 million. The state will offer additional incentives to Project Gnome.
Still, it might be a little concerning to taxpayers that they’re investing in a company without knowing what the company is or does. Interim county manager David Dear is under the impression that the county would break the law by releasing that information, at least until the state works out the rest of the package.
“There’s some SEC regulations and there’s also some state regulations that don’t allow the name of a competitive project to be released until the state incentives have been finalized and approved,” Dear says.”
We do know one more thing. The original Project Gnome was a U.S. nuclear test in the 1960s, and Dear says this company isn’t remotely related.