The news is that Computers & Tele-Comm Inc. will invest $1.67 million in the Independence Regional Entrepreneurial Center and will occupy 14,000 square feet there with another 10,000 square feet in reserve for any future growth. Is this an investment in the incubator or is it an investment in equipment for the firm?
Gibson says “…my involvement was contingent upon them (IREC) receiving TIF approval. That’s what the TIF money means to us, though we aren’t getting any of it. If that money weren’t there, we wouldn’t be investing in this facility.” Man, that brings up a lot of questions.

Gibson learned about the IREC in 2008. Subsequently he met with Tom Lasnak of the Independence Council for Economic Development and David Edwards, the IREC developer and project manager. He also had a series of negotiations with the city and with Independence Power and Light. So it would seem that as far back as 2008 the city knew of Gibson’s interest and most likely of his reluctance to invest without the TIF funds. Any possibility that this reluctance had an influence on the ultimate decision to grant the IREC the bulk of the TIF funds? The city has said repeatedly that the TIF funds are not guaranteed, but it would seem, on the surface at least, that either Gibson thinks they are or his statement above is a bunch of hogwash.

What does Gibson gain from a $1.67 million investment? Is the investment in the form of funding for the construction cost of the IREC or is it an investment in equipment for Computers & Tell-Comm, Inc.? The IREC is supposedly a non-profit, so he will reap no return on his money, or does he receive a part ownership in the facility apart from the agreement between Edwards and the Independence School District and the city? A companion question would be what does the investment mean to the Edwards Group? We know the school district will end up with the South Tower and Edwards will gain the Truman Forest Medical building, but what does Gibson get for his money? What is he being offered in return for this large investment? Are we to believe the investment is made purely to see that the IREC starts well heeled, with no benefit or return accruing to the Gibson firm? This would not be a question of a transaction between two private entities; the city is involved and the entire transaction should be public knowledge.

Typically, entreprenuerial incubators offer office space at below-market rates as a help to the fledgling firms. Is Computers & Tele-Comm Inc. to receive a discount in rent? The Gibson operation is not a startup; it has existed since 2000. If it receives rental discount, it would be an unfair business practice on the part of IREC.

As an existing firm, it does not qualify as a creator of new business, one of the big selling points expressed by Council Member Marcie Gragg in her support for the IREC. How many people does it currently employ in Independence or elsewhere? What are its growth expectations over the next five years? Are these expectations based on more than “We think so?”

I think the $10 million/$2 million split of the available TIF funds was preconceived as far back as 2007. It seems I was off a year. The dye may not have been cast until 2008. This split stunk when the TIF Fund Advisory Committee approved it, it stunk when the City Council approved it, and it stinks today.

Earl D. Bishop lives in Independence.