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Bernalillo County to consider secretive economic development project

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Next month, Bernalillo County commissioners will vote on an economic development proposal listed on public documents only as “Project Oryx.”

County filings show that Project Oryx involves an Albuquerque-based manufacturer transferring its operations into an approximately 16,000-square-foot building, a move the business says will allow it to add 139 full-time jobs. The company is seeking $2 million in state Local Economic Development Act funding for tenant improvements, as well as $25 million in industrial revenue bonds from the county, a financial mechanism for providing a property tax abatement.

At an administrative meeting on Sept. 25, commissioners announced their intent to vote on the proposal. That vote will take place at a regular meeting on Nov. 13. If the project is approved, the county will act as the fiscal agent for the state LEDA funds.

The county’s interim economic development director, Deanna Archuleta, said the name of the company and additional details about the project will be publicly available no later than Nov. 9.

Economic development officials have long given code names to major projects as a way to grant anonymity to companies until a deal is in its final stages. The Facebook data center, for example, was known as Project Antelope and the company was called Greater Kudu when it received a $30 billion industrial revenue bond package from the village of Los Lunas in June 2016. Facebook’s identity wasn’t revealed until the next month, when it filed a request with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission under its own name.

But Archuleta said the county rarely uses code names for economic development proposals, and only at the request of the company or the state. She said some businesses are concerned that a building owner won’t negotiate in good faith if it’s known that assistance from the county is likely; others are concerned that information will leak about a client base or a proprietary technology that could create changes in the marketplace.

“I really prefer not to use (code names) if at all possible,” said Archuleta. “In our first conversation with the company, we make it clear their name is going to be on everything, and ask them if there’s going to be a problem with that. Eighty to 90 percent of the time, they say ‘no.’ We make exceptions on a company-by-company basis.”

Commissioner Lonnie Talbert, who is sponsoring the proposal, said through a county spokesman that commissioners had signed a non-disclosure agreement with the company and are unable to comment on the project.

If approved, the $25 million IRB package would be less than the $30 million IRB offered to Admiral Beverage Corp. in 2012 but more than the $16 million IRB given to Lowe’s contact center in 2011. Among the largest IRBs offered in recent years were $100 million for Wagner Equipment Co. and $80 million for General Mills, both in 2016.

The tax abatements associated with IRBs are typically a small fraction of the total IRB sum. In the case of Project Oryx, the abatement for personal property would be about $1.5 million over a 20-year period, according to county filings.

The company behind Project Oryx plans to invest $23 million in its new operation, which will be engaged in high-volume manufacturing. The filings do not contain information about the location of the project.

The company has committed to an annual payroll of about $11 million within five years, under the terms of the IRB. The company’s current head count is 15 employees, and if it grows to 154 employees, the positions will have an average salary of $70,760.

Archuleta said there are clawbacks associated with the proposal tied to both job numbers and payroll.