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Missouri solicited 13 communities for sweetener plant

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri officials marketed to several communities a project to manufacture an artificial sweetener that landed last year in Moberly and now faces financial difficulties.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/oeHzzG) that documents show the state Department of Economic Development solicited 13 communities for the project, starting in March 2010. That list eventually was narrowed to Moberly, Mexico, Mo., and Sedalia. Last July, officials announced that Mamtek U.S. Inc. would produce an artificial sweetener at a plant in Moberly and employ several hundred people.

Moberly issued $39 million in industrial bonds for the project, the state offered more than $17 million worth of incentives and the deal called for an $8 million private investment. State economic development officials have said the state incentives are incentive-based and that the company has not received any state funds.

Mamtek has missed its first bond payment this year and has laid off four people it had hired. A reserve fund was used to pay the bondholders.

Department of Economic Development Director David Kerr told the newspaper last week that he thought Moberly officials brought the Mamtek project forward. Kerr said then: “I think it was the city that actually led us to this particular project. I don’t believe this was a project that we identified. It was a project that the city brought to us. I would have to go back and research this, but we got to the process later in the process.”

A spokesman for the department confirmed to the Tribune on Wednesday that the state agency had offered the project to Moberly and said that Kerr was caught off-guard by the question.

Missouri officials became aware of the Mamtek project through former Gov. Bob Holden, who is the chairman of the U.S. Midwest-China Association. Mamtek presented itself as a Hong Kong company that was owned and operated by U.S. citizens and Chinese immigrants.

Holden told the newspaper that he had a small role in the project and had sent solicitations to 12 states. The U.S. Midwest-China Association did not check whether Mamtek had the funding for a major project.

“I don’t have the staff to go in and do all the due diligence,” Holden said. “That would take a considerable amount of money with not a good rate of return.”

Before Moberly accepted the project, it had been turned down by officials in Marshall and in Bismarck, N.D.

Moberly officials declined to discuss how they became aware of the Mamtek project.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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