Freewing's Blind Eye

July 19, 1994

Apparently smarting from the bashing it has been taking over failure to land the Freewing Aerial Robotics Co. plant, the Industrial Development Authority of Carroll County has responded with its version of the failed negotiations. Ever since it DTC began dealing with Freewing, Carroll County economic development officials have refused to comment on any aspect of the talks. As a result, most news reports reflected only Freewing's version of events.

From the county's perspective, Freewing executives made a number of impractical demands. They included an unreasonably short lease on a multi-million-dollar building and air-tight indemnity from any claims arising out of any future environmental damage. If, as the IDA portrays, Freewing refused to back off from these positions, it is natural to wonder if the fledgling company was serious about establishing a production plant in Carroll.

To build its plant, Freewing needed large amounts of public financing. In return for the low-interest, government-guaranteed loan package of more than $1.5 million, the IDA believed Freewing should have committed itself to a longer-term lease. Public officials were right to be concerned about

sinking large sums of tax dollars into a plant that might have been vacated after five years. Freewing apparently didn't want this long-term lease obligation on its books. Such a liability might have hindered Freewing's ability to obtain additional loans or sell stock to the public.

The other large stumbling block was indemnification against pollutants at the old recycling site. The county offered Freewing protection against past pollution and took the reasonable position that Freewing would be responsible for future contamination.

These unresolved issues point up the need to have a director to manage the county's economic development efforts. One person working full-time on this deal might have been able to bridge the differences between the county and Freewing. It was in everyone's interest to strike a workable deal.

With the promise of 40 manufacturing jobs, Freewing represented a chance for the county to create -- rather than lose -- valuable manufacturing employment. Now that the county is getting a full-time director, we hope this sad experience won't be repeated.

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