Matt Campbell says his Precision Ammunition company has a federal supply contact and is ready to begin production but needs to build a testing site and Tuesday asked for Mineral Wells City Council's help.
It has been a long-time coming with many ups, downs and strategical changes for the company whose initial tax abatement agreement approved in June 2016 by the city soon went by the wayside and was terminated in July.
Its 84-acre Ellis White Road land acquisition deal with the Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation became controversial among some in the public and, despite no public taxpayers involved, was a key factor in council defunding the MWIF and begin to look at other economic development options.
Parts of a lengthy discussion Tuesday night between Campbell and council focused on what was purportedly a second tax abatement agreement that extended the company's performance and compliance deadline, however that agreement never came before council.
Campbell says the company, which is operating out of the former Peach Building at 109 Garrett Morris Parkway, has a federal contract to make 9mm pistol rounds and, at least for now, is less interested in a new tax abatement deal as he is wanting the city to use $150,000 in set aside funds to upgrade utility infrastructure at the Ellis White Road site.
He said it is critical for production.
"I can't go forward with my business if I don't have a ballistics facility, which has been in the plans since Day One," Campbell said. "I would think the city wants the tax revenue. I would rather not have the abatement."
Campbell said the company is using an outside company to conduct the necessary product quality tests.
"Right now we have to pay a third party to do (the tests) but that eats up our profit," Campbell said.
Mayor Christopher Perricone placed on Tuesday's agenda consideration of and action on an ad valorem tax abatement agreement for Precision Ammunition. But no additional information or proposals were provided council or the public.
"If there is something we need to look at, I need the information," said Ward 3 Councilwoman Beth Watson. "There is nothing to vote on. That makes me uncomfortable."
Campbell said the Ellis White Road property is "useless" for him without the infrastructure upgrade and without approval of plans for property access, which he currently does not have after the only access went with a home that was separated from the approved land deal.
The Industrial Foundation used its assets along with a $150,000 grant from the city's economic development fund – non-taxpayer monies – to acquire the land for Precision Ammunition. The company agreed to build a production plant on the property totaling $15 million in improvements and creating within three years more than 100 new jobs and more than 300 within five years.
The city and Palo Pinto County agreed to create an investment zone for the Wolters Industrial Park property and abate for 10 years a portion of taxes – the city capped the annual abatement at just over $500,000. City council also backed a non-recourse $10 million bond intended to help the Precision Ammunition acquire a major manufacturing component. The company initially proposed making mainly lines of center-fire and rim-fire .22-caliber rifle shells.
None of that happened. Not long after the land was acquired and deeded to Precision Ammunition, the Industrial Foundation gave Campbell use of the Peach Building for use as temporary operations. But Campbell decided the building, despite needing much work, could be a permanent production site at far less of a financial commitment and he proceeded to purchase the Garett Morris Parkway property.
Campbell agrees that major operational change essentially voided the original tax abatement agreement. However, he believed was operating under a second signed agreement.
He said while working to secure production contracts, he developed a revolutionary ammo loading machine. He has been selling some of the machines to produce capital and sustain operations. Campbell said he now has three of the machines for his own use and is ready to begin production.
"I ended up designing and building our own machines," Campbell said. "Long story short, they have been a hit."
Campbell's loading machines reportedly increase profit margins for manufacturers by greatly reducing the amount of down time that can occur when producing different types of ammo rounds. He said his machines are also more precise in the critical loading process that he says reduces waste or production of second-rate ammo.
Campbell said he hopes to acquire some capital – he says the MWIF owes him $48,000 and the company hopes to pursue a $100,000 line of credit offer from the Foundation approved by the board nearly two years ago – to complete manufacture of more loading machines to sell and use.
Council members tabled any action Tuesday while requesting any city documents related to the original and purported second abatement agreement.
"Everybody on council, and in the city, wants you to succeed," said At-Large Place 1 Councilman Brian Shoemaker.
Ward 4 Councilman Doyle Light agreed.
"I am thrilled to hear your business is progressing," said Light. "I would appreciate your patience while we get the right information. But I am excited to hear things are progressing."
City manager search
With the retirement at the end of this month of 25-year City Manager Lance Howerton, the search for his replacement is under way.
The city recently finalized its agreement with Strategic Government Resources Inc. to conduct the search for the city's next administrative leader. The contract cost is for up to $26,500 – $18,500 for professional services and expenses not to exceed $8,000.
Place 2 At-Large Councilwoman Regan Johnson said council members have been told it could take four-to-five months to find the next city manager.
"Our search for a new city manager is progressing," said Councilman Light. "I know it's going slower than than some of you would like it to be. We are pleased with the information we are receiving from them about the interest they say they are receiving. We anticipate it will be a really good process."
One step council is currently considering is determining appointment of an interim city manager.