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County agrees to handle incentives for Lavu

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County Commissioners voted earlier this week to act as the fiscal agent for a project that will provide Albuquerque-based software company Lavu Inc. with $270,000 in state Local Economic Development Act funding.

Commissioners Steven Michael Quezada, Maggie Hart Stebbins, Debbie O’Malley and James Smith voted in favor of the deal Tuesday; Commissioner Lonnie Talbert was absent.

Lavu, which sells mobile point-of-sale systems for restaurants, sought the funding for a relocation from its current downtown headquarters at First Street and Central Avenue to a larger space a few blocks away in the Plaza building. The company said in its filings with the county that it will invest $1.5 million in a remodel and that the expansion will allow Lavu to create 46 new jobs at the company.

The move-in date is listed as Nov. 1 of this year.

In a statement, Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Matt Geisel cited the project as proof of New Mexico’s “powerful economic development tools.”

In addition to the LEDA funding, Lavu was also approved for up to about $1.3 million in Job Training Incentive Program money for the current fiscal year, according to data from the economic development department’s website. That funding is associated with 93 jobs, and the company must apply for reimbursement after it trains those employees.

Hart Stebbins previously told the Journal that Lavu said it was considering leaving New Mexico and that state officials responded by offering the $270,000. A financial analysis prepared by the county states that failure by the commission to approve the deal “would result in the business moving out of Bernalillo County.”

Lavu did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the state’s economic development department said the agency is “grateful for Lavu’s commitment to New Mexico.”

Last year, Jehassi told city and state officials that crime in the downtown area could force the company to move from the area because of concerns about employee safety. In a press release from the state announcing the company’s award, Jehassi attributed LEDA, JTIP and “the governor’s commitment to reducing crime in downtown” to the company’s decision to “continue our growth in New Mexico.”

County documents show Lavu reporting a head count of 74 as of July 2017; 46 new jobs would bring the total to 120. Lavu President Ohad Jehassi told the Journal in June 2017 that the company employed 86 people in Albuquerque. An additional 46 jobs would bring the total under that scenario to 132 positions.

Clawbacks associated with the deal are based on the 74-person head count. The company must return all of the funding it receives if it does not maintain 94 jobs in the first year, 114 jobs in the second year, and 120 jobs in the third year. It must return 75 percent of the funding if it does not maintain 120 jobs in the fourth year.

The Journal was unable to clarify the apparent discrepancy between the employee estimates reported last year and those reported to the commission.┬áThe economic development department told the Journal it would adjust the application in the case of “any clerical error.”

The company has committed to maintaining a $7 million payroll in conjunction with the 120 jobs, according to the agreement. The average annual salaries of the 46 new jobs is $50,000.