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State hides Volvo cost-benefit details

State officials won’t reveal estimated taxpayer costs and benefits of the $1.1 billion Volvo project. 

This is more than 4 years after the Commerce Department announced the Swedish car maker would locate its first US plant off I-26 in Berkeley County.

The Nerve reported last week that more than $250 million in incentives had been spent or offered by state and local officials, based on Commerce records obtained under the state open-records law.

That amount was at least $50 million more than what public officials initially estimated it would cost taxpayers in Lexington County and elsewhere in the state.

The incentives included everything from multimillion-dollar state grants and bonds, sponsorship of a professional women’s tennis tournament, and an offer of free display space at Charleston International Airport.

To better determine projected total public costs of the project, The Nerve asked Commerce for any cost-benefit analyses.

They were told to submit a formal request for those records under the Freedom of Information Act.

Last week the agency released 3 analyses used by state officials and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.

2 were done in May 2015 and the 3rd in October 2017.

Yet Commerce blacked out estimated dollar amounts in a dozen listed categories in the records. These included the value of land, new buildings, machinery and equipment at the plant site.

Much of it already has been or will be paid for by taxpayers – plus average pay for about 4,000 promised jobs.

In contrast, a cost-benefit analysis publicly released in April about the Carolina Panthers’ proposed move to SC had no redactions.

Asked about redactions in the Volvo analyses, Commerce spokeswoman Alex Clark said the amounts are “considered confidential proprietary information. 

“Companies consider as confidential ... any information concerning payroll, average or individual employee wages or how and where a company invests in its facilities.” 

The Freedom of Information Act allows public agencies to redact “confidential proprietary information” for “economic development or contract negotiations purposes.” 

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org .

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