A too-good deal that went sideways

Back in 2010, a group calling itself Green Tech Automotive convinced officials in Mississippi to give it $6.4 million in start-up funds in exchange for a commitment to build a factory to make electric passenger vehicles (based on dubious Chinese technology) there and create thousands of high-tech, well-paying jobs for local low-skilled persons.

At the time, GTA was headed by Terry McAuliffe, who soon departed GTA and in 2013 was elected governor of Virginia.

The plant was built in the town of Horn Lake, but the product was a disaster and after selling a few hundred cars, the factory closed in 2017. Mississippi is calling the entire episode a fraud, and is suing GTA in an attempt to recover its funds.

Around 2014, a Chinese tissue paper manufacturer called Tranlin approached state and local officials in Virginia with a proposal to construct a massive project in Chesterfield County to make facial and bathroom tissue papers for the American market from agricultural residues — corn stalks and wheat straw — using a new, revolutionary and secret process.

Tranlin would invest $2 billion and hire 2,000 local workers at $50,000 per year each. In return, the Virginia governmental units involved needed to pony up $29.5 million in up-front incentives. The money was paid, land was purchased, a ground breaking ceremony featuring an enthusiastic Gov. McAuliffe took place, and then — nothing.

After a few years, Tranlin came forward to say that the project start-up was delayed because of technical issues, but that everything was still moving ahead. However, in 2017, when Tranlin was supposed to repay $5 million of the up-front money, it proposed to only give back $150,000 and delay future repayments as well.

Not good.

One needs to remember that leading world-class manufacturers of personal tissue products are obsessed by the need to make their products as soft and pure as possible. Companies such as Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble would never consider corn stalks as a suitable raw material, nor would most American housewives. To oldsters such as myself, with rural roots, it recalls the old phrase “rough as a cob.”

In addition, suburban Richmond is not like Iowa, surrounded by millions of acres of agricultural activity suitable for generating huge quantities of stalks and straw. I do not know how this latest fiasco will play out, but I doubt that it will end well.

Richard M. Ludwig

James City county

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