The Flagler County Commission Monday evening unanimously approved granting a performance-based $150,000 incentive package to an LED lighting manufacturing company that would create 300 well-paying jobs and build a plant in the county over the next three years.
The county is keeping the company’s name secret, identifying the plan as “Project Green Dream,” and describing the company as “a world-leading producer of high-technology electronics solutions and innovative LED lighting products for the aviation, marine, vehicle, mining, industrial, and obstruction warning/safety markets.”
The closest match to such a company is Aveo Engineering, whose LED lights have been appended to planes, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, on hangars and at airports and in other places. The company, owned by Christian Nielsen—a Navy veteran—has been a registered business in Palm Coast and Naples since 2010, and lists Palm Coast first among the several cities where it does business (among them Pribram, in the Czech Republic, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Birmingham in England and Mumbai). It is part of the Aveo Group of affiliated companies, all of which make LED-related, green-energy products. (A previous version of this story referred to Nielsen as being of Palm Coast. In fact, while a Miami native and the owner of residential property in the Hammock, he is a resident of the Czech Republic.)
“This could be just be really, really big for Flagler County if this moves forward, so be very excited about this,” Barbara Revels, the county commissioner who chairs the county’s economic development advisory board, said Monday evening.
The company, according to the county, would create 300 jobs over three years—50 the first year, 100 the second year, and 150 the third year. For each job created and retained at least four years, the county would provide a $500 incentive. That payment would be made over four years, in increments of $125 per year, as long as the jobs are, in fact, produced. The deal requires all new jobs to be awarded to people living within 40 miles of the company’s operations. The company will have to send the county a report on its job creation and retention “at least every six months,” according to the agreement.
The average salary for the new jobs would be $43,379, or 150 percent above the county’s average annual wage.
The average salary is different from the median salary, which would more accurately reflect the mid-point range of most salaries. By averaging out salaries, a company can include its highest paid brass with rank and file employees, so that a $1 million salary combined with three dozen $30,000 salaries would produce an average salary of $56,000. The deal does not specify explicitly whether the average calculation will exclude executives. It notes that “at a minimum, the certification must include an annual written progress report verifying the number of existing permanent, full time Local Jobs, their wages, and the average wage of said employees.”
The company anticipates a capital investment of $7.5 million, including construction of a new facility and equipment. There’s no word yet on where that facility would be.
The 300 new jobs would, when all on the books, yield an annual payroll of $13 million, excluding benefits and raises. Helga van Eckert, Flagler’s director of economic development, provided the company’s more impressive aggregate payroll investment over several years–$73 million.
“So there’s a substantial investment from the company in the community,” van Eckert said, in exchange for the county’s $150,000. “There’s a substantial investment when it comes to training and benefits that’ll be provided to our residents.”
Van Eckert noted that “one of the benefits of the jobs being phased in the way that they are is that it allows us to get residents in the community up to par if they wanted to work with them, so we provide training through Daytona State or some other venue with the Center for Business Excellence.”
The county, before van Eckert’s tenure, has a long record of making such promises, with little to show for it. Eckert’s operation, along with the county’s advisory council, have promised a more reliable approach. They’ve also promised a more transparent one, though state law allows local governments to keep their business prospects secret, though once money has been approved as part of a package, a clock ticks and compels revelation after a set period of time.
“This is a world-wide company with a great bio,” Revels said.
The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity has also agreed to an incentive package for the new company.
Nielsen, the CEO of Aveo—and previously the CEO of Lake Forest, Ill.-based StarTek, an LED affiliate of Aveo—is said to have decided to develop his own brand of LED lights when the wingtip lights on his own Cessna would fail in below-freezing temperatures, as they did on Arctic Circle-crossing trips to Europe.
Calling itself “brilliantly different,” Aveo is a brashly independent company that wears its flag on its sleeve and doesn’t suffer the competition lightly. “If they want to flag-wave, bring it on,” Nielsen writes—in an open letter to the aviation industry called, with no hint of modesty, “The 7 Wonders of Aveo Engineering Lights—“but we provide more jobs and economic impact in the USA than anyone who claims to solely be American, as our company makes its lights for aerospace, marine, commercial, industrial, architectural, mining, construction, and street lighting all from American components, and these go to the entire global marketplace, meaning significant exports of American goods.”