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Thrush gets preliminary OK for $200,000 from Albany Deal-Closing Fund

Thrush would be the first business to be awarded money from the fund

Members of the city of Albany's Long-Term Financial Planning Committee discuss incentivization funding sought by Albany-based agricultural airplane maker Thrush Aircraft Monday. Committee members are, from right, Bob Hutchinson, Tommie Postell, Chad Warbington and B.J. Fletcher. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Members of the city of Albany's Long-Term Financial Planning Committee discuss incentivization funding sought by Albany-based agricultural airplane maker Thrush Aircraft Monday. Committee members are, from right, Bob Hutchinson, Tommie Postell, Chad Warbington and B.J. Fletcher. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Pending final approval by the Albany City Commission, Albany-based agricultural aircraft maker Thrush Aircraft will become the first business to take advantage of the city of Albany’s so-called Deal-Closing Fund.

The City Commission’s Long-Term Financial Planning Committee approved by a 4-0 vote Monday a request for funding from the Deal-Closing Fund, a one-third allocation of credits returned to the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. The funds were collected as a hedge against deregulation.

“This is the way we saw this process working,” LTFP Committee Chairman Tommy Postell said after the meeting. “This is the kind of business we wanted to incentivize. We can’t be giving these funds to mom-and-pop businesses. This committee is in the business of promoting jobs.”

In the request for funding, Thrush owner Payne Hughes said the aircraft maker anticipates hiring 75 to 100 workers over the next three years as the company begins a production line for its S2R 660 aircraft. The company plans to build 24 of the new planes, also known as Thrush 710s, per year.

Officials with the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission, which developed the Deal-Closing Fund criteria at the request of the LTFP Committee, had been working with Thrush officials for more than a year to help the airplane maker maximize its incentivization efforts. EDC President Justin Strickland said the awarding of the funds to Thrush could be a boost for business recruitment.

“We’ve said all along the best marketing campaign for these funds would be utilization,” Strickland said. “We’re proud to bring a proposal to the table that meets the guidelines established by the Long-Term Financial Planning Committee and the City Commission. This is the kind of announcement that could spurn further interest in the fund.”

The LTFP Committee, comprising Postell and fellow Albany City Commissioners Bob Langstaff, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, and B.J. Fletcher as well as WG&L Commissioners Chad Warbington and Bob Hutchinson, approved the incentive funding after a brief discussion. Strickland had recommended approval.

Based on the guidelines of the Deal-Closing Fund, Thrush’s job creation qualifies the company for a point on the project-funding criteria established by the EDC and LTFP Committee. Each point qualifies an applicant for $200,000 in incentive funding.

Warbington, noting that the committee had not met in more than a year prior to Monday’s gathering, asked for a meeting next month to discuss possible “tweaking” of the Deal-Closing Fund guidelines. Specifically, Warbington suggested a lesser amount of funding for potential businesses that would bring jobs in numbers below the guidelines’ threshold.

Postell shot down his suggestion.

“I’m not going to call a meeting in a month,” the committee chairman said. “It might not be feasible. I might not be in town. I’m the one who calls these meetings. This is not an every-other-month or every-two-weeks or every-month committee. I will not be told when to meet.”

Warbington responded, “I think maybe the bar (for funding) is set too high. I think it might be worth revisiting.”

Postell replied, “You’re trying to re-invent the wheel,” leading Warbington to shoot back, “No, Mr. Postell, I’m trying to improve this wheel.”

Warbington said after the meeting he doesn’t like the committee discounting business prospects over an arbitraty number of jobs.

“Every single job coming to this community is important,” he said. “I just think what level of incentivization (the committee) can provide should be discussed further.”

The City Commission will formally vote on the Thrush funding at its July 22 meeting.