By unanimous vote, Paris Economic Development Corp. directors terminated executive director Michael Paris on Thursday after meeting behind closed doors for roughly 30 minutes.
“Michael, I and the board would like to appreciate your contributions that you have made to the PEDC and to the city of Paris, but at this time we feel your services are no longer needed,” board chairman Timothy Hernandez said before motioning to terminate, which received a second by Dr. A.J. Hashmi. “We wish you well.”
The chairman had little to say about the termination, and Paris declined comment.
“A decision was made by the board that it was in the best interest of PEDC and the City of Paris to move in a different direction,” Hernandez said. “We will probably have a director’s meeting next week, and that will be in open session. We will discuss where we are going and what our next steps will be.”
Action by the board drew the support of both Paris Mayor Steve Clifford and Interim City Manager Gene Anderson. Anderson attended the meeting and later sent an email response at The Paris News’s request while Clifford spoke by phone.
“I fully support the PEDC board in their decision to terminate Mr. Paris,” Clifford said. “I know every member of the board made this decision in the best interest of the city of Paris. I respect that decision, and I look forward to working with the PEDC board as they and the City Council continue our work for economic development in Paris.”
Anderson recognized Paris’ accomplishments and expressed confidence in the work of the remaining economic development staff members
“The City of Paris wishes Michael Paris all the best as he moves on to new challenges,” Anderson said. “He can look back with pride on a number of economic accomplishments during his tenure at PEDC.”
About staff members Chris Stout and Paula Brownfield, Anderson said: “The remaining staff members at PEDC are competent individuals who will be able to carry on the day-to-day work that needs to be done. The city is prepared to help in any way it can during this transition period.”
After the meeting, Hernandez met briefly with staff. When questioned further, Hernandez said he would meet with Stout and Brownfield again Friday.
“I am going to meet with them tomorrow to make sure all of our projects are aligned and we have no issues,” Hernandez said.
An indication something might be amiss with the board’s assessment of Paris’ performance came in mid-November when directors voted to hire an outside person to review the process Paris used in disseminating information about incentives to industrial prospects. The board tabled an executive session at a Dec. 18 meeting to discuss the matter along with other work-related items on the agenda. That study has not yet been completed, according to City Attorney Stephanie Harris, who said the PEDC wanted to make clear Paris’s termination was not because of the results of the study.
Paris was hired into the role in December 2015 from Wichita Falls, where he served as vice president for business retention and expansion for the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, a role he held since 2008. He has worked in business recruiting and retention for more than 20 years and also has experience in health care and higher education, The Paris News reported at the time of his hiring.
In May 2019, PEDC directors rewarded Paris with a $5,000 bonus for a job well done in leading efforts to bring American SpiralWeld Pipe Co. to Paris. The company, currently constructing its facility on a 140-acre site in the Paris Industrial Park on Northwest Loop 286, is to invest between $70 million and $90 million in a plant in the Paris Industrial Park to employ between 60 and 100 high-paying jobs.
In November 2019, directors approved roughly $2.5 million in cash incentives to lure three manufacturing companies to Paris with a promise of about 200 jobs in return. The companies also were given access to seven year de-escalating tax abatements from the city and county as well as access to state and federal tax credits, according to Paris. The prospects are identified as Project Iron Shovel, Project Rocket X and Project Rainwater Falls.
Project Rainwater Falls is a Portland, Oregon, company that does injection molding of plastic products. Plans call for the construction of a 200,000-square-foot facility somewhere inside Loop 286 with a promise of 125 jobs, Paris said.
Project Iron Shovel, an American airplane engine company, is looking to locate a 100,000-square-foot facility at Cox Field and employ about 50 people, Paris said.
Project Rocket X, a tire manufacturer from Indiana, looks to locate a 200,000-square-foot building off Northwest Loop 286 in the Industrial Park. Plans are to manufacture trailer tires with roughly 25 employees.
In December 2019, directors determined the PEDC will need to borrow $3 million to cover cash incentives if all prospective industries currently in negotiations decide to locate in Paris. Cash incentives on the books include $1 million for jobs and $1 million for rail development for American SpiralWeld Pipe Co.; $4.5 million for Project Rainwater Falls; $500,000 for Project Iron Shovel; $140,000 for Project Rocket X; and $300,000 for rail to the J. Skinner Bakery, which was at the time under negotiation.
Now at $4.3 million, the cash-on-hand balance is projected to drop to $774,851 by year end 2020 at which time the group will need to borrow $3 million to meet $1 million cash-for-jobs payments in years 2021, 2022 and 2023 promised Project Rainwater Falls provided the company maintains 160 full-time jobs in its workforce.
Hernandez also reported at the time $1.6 million projected for other new projects and $950,000 for the Gene Stallings Business Park, the clean-up of other properties and the completion of work on the American SpiralWeld site. Also included for the next four years are $2.4 million in operating costs and $1.5 million in loan payments for a total outlay of roughly $13.85 million.
Hernandez projected roughly $7.55 million in sales tax revenue, a 2.5% increase based on increased business activity 240 new jobs would bring to the economy. With the $3 million in borrowed funds plus the $4.250 million currently on hand, cash-on-hand at the end of 2024 is projected at roughly $950,000.
Anderson said the 2.5% increase in sales tax is “pretty optimistic.”