Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Loan Denial Stuns Local Firm; Small Business Says Incentives Promised; JEDC Chair Says Process Needs Improving

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Loan Denial Stuns Local Firm; Small Business Says Incentives Promised; JEDC Chair Says Process Needs Improving

Article excerpt

Byline: ALISON TRINIDAD

Dressed in khakis with shirt sleeves rolled up, entrepreneur Paul Kamke waited patiently last month as four Jacksonville Economic Development commissioners debated his request for $49,900.

Kamke, who owns a small metal manufacturing company in a run-down neighborhood near Talleyrand Avenue, had proposed to use the money -- a $41,900 loan and $8,000 grant -- to help pay for improvements to his warehouse and hire five new full-time employees.

After painful dissection, a motion to approve the request died for lack of a second.

Kamke, like many others in the JEDC chambers that morning, was surprised.

"What am I going to do?" Kamke asked this week from his office on Wambolt Street. "I'm just the little guy."

In September 2003, the JEDC -- a city agency that has disbursed millions of dollars to help encourage economic development and create jobs in Jacksonville -- recommended that City Council approve a $185,000 loan and $30,000 grant for Kamke's company, Miscellaneous Sheet Metal Inc. The company, which employs seven, makes custom metal parts for clients like Vistakon and Anheuser-Busch.

The JEDC's recommendation, however, was deferred because Miscellaneous Sheet Metal fell under investigation by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation (the company was charged with operating without a proper license) in October 2003. Although city documents show that the company was cleared of all charges in September 2004, the JEDC did not automatically honor its recommendation: During the year-long investigation, the commission had adopted a new incentive policy that required Kamke to renew his application. Partly because Kamke had begun several of the originally proposed improvements to operate his business out of pocket, his request to the city dropped to $49,900.

The new request, which would not have had to go before City Council for approval because it was for less than $50,000, was presented to the commissioners Sept. 15.

The process was tedious, Kamke said. Call after call, even a letter asking the mayor to find out what was taking the JEDC so long, didn't help.

"In essence, I felt like I was being stonewalled. . . . [It's been] nothing but grief, heartache and a lot of wasted time," Kamke said.

Kamke, who moved to Jacksonville from Ohio after buying the business in 1998, said he would not have moved the company to Wambolt Street if it were not for the promised incentives.

He moved his equipment, employees and business from a rented office and warehouse on St. Augustine Road in November 2003, with the assumption that the city would help him financially: The new office is in the city's Enterprise and Empowerment zones, areas that are targeted for economic revitalization.

Kamke's proposal fit guidelines and was recommended for approval by JEDC staff. …

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