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Flagler’s Aveo Pandering: The Artful Way To Do a Groundbreaking, and the Bogus Way

| February 26, 2016

gov. rick scott aveo engineering flagler

Gov. Rick Scott decorates Aveo Engineering chief Christian Nielsen with the ‘Governor’s Business Ambassador’ medal at the ‘groundbgreaking’ for Aveo’s plant at the Flagler County Airport in July 2013. The plant was never built. (© FlaglerLive)

As reporters we’re often invited to groundbreakings. They’re not news. They’re what the historian Daniel Boorstin called pseud-events, PR stints designed as free advertising rather than newsworthiness, which makes them particularly difficult to write about: puff doesn’t translate well in words. But often we play along because certain events are worth celebrating even with a little puffery. Let me tell you about two such groundbreakings.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive The first took place earlier this month in Town Center when the Palm Coast Arts Foundation broke ground on its new venue. It was a wonderful occasion, cheery and unpretentious. The foundation had actually gotten the land more than three years ago. It could have done a groundbreaking them.  But it hadn’t yet lined up the money or the permits, and you don’t do a groundbreaking until you’re ready to—well, break ground. So even though the foundation took some flack, it merely planted a sign on the property and waited until it had all its papers in order and its money in hand before doing the actual groundbreaking on Feb. 11.

Days later, bulldozers were at work. You can see them there now, churning and dumping and leveling. By spring that’s where the annual Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Picnics and Pops will be performing the foundation’s annual gift to Palm Coast.

That, anyway, is the honest, the genuine way to do groundbreakings. Word matches deed. I was more than happy to report on that one. And by the way, a few days later we had a groundbreaking on a new wing down the street at Florida Hospital Flagler for 32 new beds. No sooner was the ceremony over than the hard hats went to work, building scaffolds and breaking ground for real. Florida Hospital Flagler, of course, has no choice: it answers to god, so deception is not an option.

Some companies only have to worry about county government, or worse: Rick Scott. Anything goes.

So go back three years to another groundbreaking. That one was at the Flagler County Airport. It was one of those big, contrived unveilings after the county’s economic development department had peddled the prize under one of its cheesy code names (“Project Green Dream,” in this case, the dream proving more accurate than intended). The company was Aveo Engineering. The promise was of 300 well-paying jobs and a manufacturing plant that would make really cool aircraft lights. Great. So great that Gov. Scott came down, every local government bigwig came out, the county’s economic development folks fell all over each other congratulating themselves, and of course all of us media schmucks, about a dozen of us, came out and gave the occasion lavish coverage.

We had no reason to doubt what we were being told. Aveo CEO Christian Nielsen was projecting construction to begin swiftly, hire 50 people that year and 300 by this year. He signed a 40-year lease six a few weeks later.

But the groundbreaking was all bogus.

Aveo hadn’t secured the necessary permits to build, nor had it worked out its issues with the county yet. The ceremonial groundbreaking took place. Nothing else did.

Earlier this month we reported that in fact Aveo had bailed from its lease there. The county knew about this months ago. Of course, it never announced that in one of its new releases. God forbid we’d get more than “branding” PR from our local government agencies. Aveo’s irascible Nielsen, let it be known that he was still looking to build in Flagler, but that there were too many issues at the airport, and anyway he’d rather own the property than lease. Why he hadn’t cared to make that known three years ago is anybody’s guess.

An interview with Damien Esmond, Nielsen’s more amiable right hand in Palm Coast, revealed that there’d been great friction between Aveo and Roy Sieger, the director at the airport, with Aveo blaming Sieger for various things, though considering that Sieger has single-handedly accomplished more for economic development at the airport than all of the county’s rather self-aggrandizing half-million dollar economic development department—who else can turn white elephants into golden gooses in Flagler government?—I very much doubt he was the problem.

The problem is Aveo. The problem is Nielsen making bogus claims before it was time to make any claims at all, and county government, or at least portions of it, chucking off caution and controls and replacing responsibility with pandering to land a non-existent deal for the sake of a few headlines. The problem was trooping us down for a ceremonial groundbreaking, with the governor taking credit for 300 more ghost jobs he could tack on to his campaign fictions, or the county claiming that deal as the biggest feather in its cap ever since , when it was all just a PR stint that wasn’t yet ready for prime time. It reminds me of how local sheriffs have on occasion played up big drug busts, especially at election time, that would turn out to be nothing more than the round-up of the usual suspect, half of whom would be back on the streets by the time the sheriff would give us his triumphant spiel in a news conference. It’s rank manipulation, pure and simple.

I’m not sure the manipulation is over. Esmond last week said one reason for the delays had been the Federal Aviation Administration’s permit for Aveo to start manufacturing parts in the United States. That permit had taken longer than expected, but it had just been issued. So now it was “full speed ahead” for Aveo, Esmond said. I checked with the FAA. On Feb. 24, the FAA’s Arlene Salac wrote me: “Aveo Engineering’s application to manufacturer aircraft parts has not been approved yet by the FAA.” How unbrilliantly familiar.

Nielsen claims he’s still committed to Flagler County. He just won’t do it with government help or on government land. Great. Jobs are jobs–once they materialize–and a business on private land means more property tax revenue. But next time he plans to build and make good on his promises, let’s hope there’s a there there, and let’s hope the public doesn’t get played the way county government, Gov. Rick Scott and Aveo Engineering played us three years ago.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

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16 Responses for “Flagler’s Aveo Pandering: The Artful Way To Do a Groundbreaking, and the Bogus Way”

  1. tulip says:

    So, from the way I read this article, no permits were granted to Aveo? So the BOCC didn’t bother checking the county records just to be assured all paper work was in place and participated in this farce? They just took Aveo’s word for it and went for the publicity rather than making sure all this was going to happen?

    It’s just one more incident that destroys my confidence in our county leaders.

  2. Ken Dodge says:

    Maybe the stolen shovel used for breaking ground was a clue, or maybe that they just pretended to have a shovel there at all.

  3. Barry Hartmann says:

    Great job Pierre! You managed to get all your digs in one article, the Governer,the Sheriff, and the county Economic Development Dept. I prefer reading articles that are less bias.!

  4. Blame yourself says:

    All of the government agency’s do the self serving back patting media events, down here in the Bermuda triangle things are backwards, seems like the majority of voters only remember the PR event and not the outcome. I cite Ginn, Palm Coast Data, Cake across america, that hose company, red light camera scams, failed golf course and tennis center, a swim club for 200 private citizens all funded by your tax dollars, and the list goes on and on. In my opinion its not the Aveo’s of the world that are the problem, its our great politicians in this county who are always so quick to campaign at every opportunity, remember how great a deal the old hospital buy was, how beneficial giving PCD our (then) City Hall was going to be for our economy, meanwhile the city had to rent space for years while they figured out a way to undermine the vote of its citizens, Enterprise Flagler was the so called private/public savior to our economic problems, didn’t work out so well. There are ethics fines being handed out like candy lately! No, the problem is not the company’s that are smart enough to come here and play these politicians with there asinine incentives, the problem isn’t the political actors who use everything as a campaign tool, the problem isn’t the 2 ego manical city and county managers who can never seem to agree and grand stand at every opportunity trying to prove to each other who is the more clever than the other making themselves look like the biggest asses I have ever witnessed in my lifetime, here in flagler county the problem is the voter, if you really want to make a difference, register, and remember these things and get out and investigate your candidate and vote!

  5. Sherry says:

    Just more Rick Scott BS! What’s troubling is that our horrific governor got his “photo op” which makes him “appear” to be creating “decent” jobs. The reality, however, is quite different.

    Unfortunately, our voters have tiny attention spans and they actually believe what the cable news networks spoon feed them. They don’t take the time to do their own research for the truth.

    We need a revolution alright. . . we need the dangerous, destructive, divisive “Tea Party” gone from our state houses as well as their OBSTRUCTIONIST counterparts in Congress! Let’s get out the vote and give the “Tea Party” the “heave ho” in EVERY election!

    Remember. . . we get the local, state, and federal governments WE ELECT ! If we don’t even bother to vote then we are allowing others to choose for us. . . . and “they” will continue to put people in office who are destroying our country from within.

    Our next chance to make a difference is MARCH 15. . . take a moment to stand up and be counted! Exercise you RIGHT to vote before it is completely taken away by “Emperor Trump”!

  6. confidential says:

    Can now Rick Scott ask to be returned the “”Governor Business Ambassador Medal” awarded to Nielsen then. Lots of eggs on Scott’s , county BOCC, Ecker’s and Chamber of horrors faces. Too bad we are even forced to pay for the Governor, medal and entourage flying in, wining and dining under the tent including now the eggs! Meanwhile the existing local business “the real jobs and revenue creators operating for decades in this county” pay for the above waste and endure the loss of our tax payers funded contracts assigned and creating jobs and revenue elsewhere. Why..? over frivolous excuses of saving taxpayers $$$ in reality is over graft and revenue generated for special well connected interest outside this county. Are the local GOP heads going to blame this one also on the poor? When is going to take place the real ground breaking without so much fanfare for a camping site at least, for our homeless women, children, men and elderly? Were they can use the bathroom, take a shower, get some job skills training and overnight or seat in the sun safe without being booted around?

  7. REALLY says:

    THE REAL STORY: I’m afraid the article fails to depict the REAL issue at hand. “The Road to Nowhere”. The reality here is another grand example of government’s irresponsible spending of tax payer dollars. The private sector isn’t completely to blame. Let’s and hold our county government accountable for its actions or lack thereof in this case. Flagler County spent millions in tax payer dollars to build an industrial park at the airport to compete with the private sector developers. The road constructed south of the airport for the Airport industrial Park where Aveo was to build still remains without access to this date years after the construction of the park. Yes, your County spent your tax money to develop an industrial park that has no access. Even had Aveo built as anticipated, they have no access to the park. The next time you drive down Belle Terre and see the orange cones on the airport side, you’ll have comfort in knowing that one day the airport industrial park access may be completed. The real question is did the County really expect Aveo to be successful without viable access for its transport distribution trucks and employees. What is the opportunity for future success at this park’s with no access? Did Flagler County ever get permission from Palm Coast to connect to Belle Terre or is the County still attempting to build an entrance to lesser standards than required by the private sector? Does the industrial park even have sewer and water or has that issue remained inconclusive with the City of Palm Coast? What’s this about the National Guard? 20 years in the making, really?

    Google Earth shows the proof. The truth is Flagler County, you can’t provide access as promised and as a result we have another failed Flagler County Airport conundrum. Flagler County, own up to the whole story, the cat is out of the bag. Aveo may have not been the only consumer of your park with interest had it been completed.

    The road to nowhere, the real issue.

  8. YankeeExPat says:

    (In my most Sarcastic Tone)…..”This might all be true, but at least the county got the Spartan Race.”

    **$25,000 in discretionary funding already approved by the Flagler County Tourist Development Council**

    REALLY says: has summed up the never ending Pissing match between the Flagler County and Palm Coast. Sewer and water lines?………Ha! , I doubt the county and Palm Coast could reach a consensus between St Augustine grass and Bahia grass without getting their panties in a twist. As long as our elected officials continue to protect their little potato fiefdom, Flagler will remain to have the Podunk distinction it continues to live up to.

  9. marty says:

    “You managed to get all your digs in one article, the Governer,the Sheriff, and the county Economic Development Dept. I prefer reading articles that are less bias.!”

    “Digs”??? Looks to me like an article that cut through the political/corporate BS and spin that politicians like Scott specialize in and relayed the facts of what happened re Aveo.

  10. Salient Point says:

    I just scanned the airport from overhead on Google earth after reading these comments, (you should too) If the road Isnt there, at least not connecting to Belle Terre or Rt 100 Or Seminole woods Blvd, How in the world would anybody get to the place, helicopters? I was pissed too RE waste of our tax dollars but maybe this point is the reason why? The paved road clearly appears to end at a swamp at the edge of a lake, long before the road (Belle Terre) .

  11. Lin says:

    Blame yourself,
    A lot if good points
    But I’d like to add that if we wait until we see the ballot and even earlier wait until we hear the candidates at the chamber forums we only have a choice of the candidates that the parties in power put forth as our choices. I’m already disappointed — what to do, what to do about it is the problem. Speaking out and speaking up, and voting isn’t enough. These bad decisions happen anyway. Same problem locally as nationally.

  12. WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot says:

    You can’t blame the politicians for being so good at what they do. Blame the citizens who lack the education, intellect, and care to fact-check them. Governor Scott and his corporate cronies have been at this since the beginning. Finally the legislature has caught on to their BS and decided not to fund the Governors $250M request for Enterprise Florida this year. I guess they will have to put the party/orgy tab on private dollars instead of public next time they all get together to celebrate the best sucker living – the average American taxpayer.

    The “people” demanded government run like a business and they got one… All of the corporate powdered milk they could choke down…

    This isn’t rhetoric – it’s just common sense that isn’t so common anymore

  13. Hold on a minute! says:

    I drive on Belle Terre all the time from US1 north to Rt100. Do you mean to tell me that the abandoned construction site on the right before you get to Rt 100 isn’t just another real estate development failure but the stalled construction of the Counties new business park (excecutive Drive)!?!?!? I think the last time I saw a bulldozer there was 2 years ago.

    So a successful business entrepreneur from Europe who owns multiple factories wants to build another one here in Flagler, simply because he liked to vacation in this area and bought a beach house, why not build a factory too? he signs a lease with the county back in 2013, and we kick this gift horse in the mouth by failing to pave a simple road? Unless he only hires 300 employees with jeeps or humvees how was he supposed to get workers there? What about the mail man, FedEx, hell what if janitor wanted a pizza delivered?

    I see beautiful new sidewalks with landscaping all up and down nearby Seminole woods rd that were installed in a month it seemed like, occasionally I even see a jogger using it… But in 3 years Flagler can’t finish a road to help create 300 jobs?!?!

    Something smells with this story.

    We should be thankful Aveo still wants to be here, period. Something is not adding up here, I think you have some more homework and digging to do mr. Reporter

  14. HairyGary says:

    I thought Coffey was only going to be reimbursed for the road in the event that Aveo moved onto the airport property? Pretty sure he jumped the construction gun based on ‘assurances’ of Aveo’s move and has thereby cost the taxpayers millions of dollars on a road to nowhere and nothing. It really amazes me how bad that guy is at his job. Can someone get him a promotion out of town?

  15. Hold on a minute! says:

    Starting to sound like the fable which came first the chicken or the egg?

    Aveo cannot build in the new biz park because they cannot get to it without driving over active runways, county can’t finish last few hundred yards of roadway because there’s no Aveo?

    What about the aerial Miskito spraying company, and the national guard coming in like I read about, how do they get in? I guess they got the required helicopters and tanks to access our great new business park

    I highly doubt a private company that makes light bulbs for airplanes is to blame for this quagmire!

  16. Who Knows says:

    The road can not be completed because Flagler County has not worked out an agreement with the City of Palm Coast to connect to Belle Terre. The only access to the newly paved road is through the dirt road that takes you to the airport tower. Under Flagler Land Development Code a building permit can not be issued to anyone unless access to the builidng site is achieved and sewer/water access is achieved. The airport industrial park has neither. Aveo is not to blame, they were promised a building site 2 years ago and the county has not delivered.

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