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Tea company serving economy
Florapharm plans distribution center
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A German tea company has signed a three-year lease slated to begin March 1 inside Hinesville Technology Park, one of the industrial properties owned by the Liberty County Development Authority.

The business, Florapharm, will occupy space in the former BioAgra building, which the company vacated in 2009, according to Carmen Cole, LCDA director of finance and administration.

Since November, Florapharm has paid a $750 monthly reservation fee to hold the space until its $10,742 per month lease takes effect.

According to its website, the company was established in 1992 and is a world supplier of a variety of teas, including green, black, rooibos and oolong varieties.

“They seem to have ambitious plans for the facility, and I think it will benefit our community,” LCDA attorney Kelly Davis said as he announced that Florapharm had signed the lease.

“Those were fairly lengthy negotiations, it took us a while,” CEO Ron Tolley said. “But it’s a good example of foreign-direct investment from overseas in Liberty County.”

LCDA marketing director Anna Chafin said the company will use the space for distribution operations and plans to employ 50 people in the first five years of operation, with the potential to expand both the facility and employment in the future.

The LCDA board discussed the steps necessary to prepare the facility for the tenant during its Monday meeting.

The LCDA is in the process of selling specialized industrial equipment that BioAgra left in the space because it was affixed to the building, Cole said.

Equipment expert Terry Stargel with Versatile Equipment Co. has been tagging the machinery for sale and ensuring its condition, she said.

Stargel separated the equipment into 17 lots, and each will be bid on separately to give more buyers a chance at acquiring the items.

Cole asked the board to approve two separate proposals from VEC for Stargel’s services. The first, $6,370, will cover time and labor to inspect the equipment and get it in working order for the sake of demonstrations. The other, up to an estimated $4,750, is for the expert’s time in overseeing the removal of the items.

The board discussed the matter, with members Paul Krebs and state Rep. Al Williams voicing reluctance to approve the proposal. Cole said that getting the equipment working would show potential buyers that it is functional and likely would increase bids on the items. She also said that having someone to oversee the removal would protect both the building and equipment purchased by others.

The board approved the proposals, with Krebs abstaining and all others in favor.

Money for the services will come from $50,000 that was allocated for repairs and renovations to the space, Cole said. Once the equipment is removed, the facility will be renovated.

Bids for the items are due Dec. 22, and the board anticipates awarding the bids during a called meeting at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 6.

Davis also spoke about approving a $12,070 payment for residual closing costs associated with the authority’s restructuring of nearly $25 million in debt this summer.

The terms of the restructuring agreement require the authority to bear legal costs associated with the deal, Davis said.

Though the LCDA previously paid $107,000 in issuance costs for the bonds, the $12,070 invoice from SunTrust’s counsel had not been forwarded to the LCDA upon closing.

In January, the group likely will consolidate two separate bonds into a single, tax-exempt bond with a lower interest rate, Cole said. The closing costs approved Monday will be paid along with the consolidation transaction.

Fees for the consolidation will be significantly less than the initial bond issuance fees, Davis said, and Cole added that the LCDA will make budget adjustments to supplement the fees.

In other news:

• Davis said he is working closely with Midway’s counsel, James Coppage, to resolve some long-standing payment and interest issues related to shared water and sewer services. He anticipates both parties will come to an amicable agreement.

• Krebs brought up installation issues related to the authority’s water pump system. After discussion, the board decided to ask the project engineer, parts supplier and contractor who completed the labor to take a look at the machinery and determine whether any corrective action is needed.

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