Bosch’s planned layoffs raise questions about repayment of incentives
By Rick Brundrett
In December 2010, then-Gov. Mark Sanford, along with other state and local officials, announced a $125 million expansion of the Robert Bosch automotive parts plant in Dorchester County, with promises that the project would create 285 jobs.
The Nerve revealed several months later that the estimated public costs of the project over 10 years totaled about $11.8 million, citing S.C. Department of Commerce records obtained under the state’s open-records law.
Earlier this month, Bosch formally notified the state unemployment agency that it planned to cut 430 jobs, or nearly 24 percent of its Lowcountry workforce of approximately 1,800 employees, in stages through July 31, 2021.
But the company likely will have to repay few, if any, of its taxpayer-backed gifts, given state laws and incentives agreements that typically are generous with public money on the front end but often require relatively little or no repayment when companies later lay off workers or close.
And the laws and incentives agreements have plenty of secrecy provisions that prevent citizens from knowing exactly the amount of public benefits that the companies received and how the money was spent.
Companies are eligible to receive certain corporate tax breaks under state law if they meet specific requirements. Other taxpayer-backed benefits, such as various state grants, are awarded at the discretion of the S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development, an 11-member panel made up the heads or board chairpersons of state agencies involved with economic development.
By law, the council is chaired by the Commerce secretary, who is appointed by the governor. The Nerve has previously reported that the panel has typically met behind closed doors in Commerce’s headquarters across from the State House to discuss incentives for companies, which often are not publicly identified.
The Nerve in 2018 revealed that a total of nearly $13 million in state grants was awarded between 2009 and 2014 to 11 counties and one town to help 14 companies that decided to locate or expand in those counties. But the companies collectively repaid just a little over half of the total amount after failing to hit job-creation or investment targets, Commerce records showed, under what commonly are known as “clawback” provisions in incentives agreements.
Of the 14 companies, four closed plants in counties that received the grants, and another project never materialized.
Under its incentives agreement for the expansion project, Bosch would have received a $1 million state grant if it invested $125 million or more and created at least 285 full-time jobs by Dec. 2, 2014, as The Nerve previously reported.