LAFOLETTE, TN. (WLAF)- Last July, Campbell County and Jellico officials along with the owner of a Jacksboro-based trailer manufacturing firm, announced good news for the economically depressed Jellico area. Read the original story from July 2018 HERE.
County Mayor E. L. Morton announced that with the support of state economic development grants, Better Made Trailers (BMT) of Jacksboro planned to set up a plant in the former Taylor Machine factory in Oswego Industrial Park.
The City of Jellico would convey the city-owned building to BMT and a “Fast Track Industrial Training Grant” of up to $482,000 would be approved by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to cover costs of refitting the empty building and hiring and training new employees. At least 100 new jobs would be created in Jellico along with a smaller number of new jobs at the company’s Jacksboro facility.
Now, almost a year later, BMT has been hit with two civil judgments for failing to pay its debts and a check, promised to BMT, from the state, to help get the Oswego building in shape, had to be returned to the state.
Hiring was projected to begin last September but nearly a year has passed and the building in Jellico remains empty and dark, while BMT appears strapped with financial difficulties. A check from the Tennessee Economic and Community Development Board for $276,685 had to be returned to the state on June 7.
The check was received by the Campbell County Industrial Development Board in late May to be passed on to BMT, but remained un-deposited in the mayor’s desk for days, lacking the second signature needed to become valid.
At that time, Morton remained cautiously optimistic. “The delay is largely due to tariffs that have been placed on imported steel,” Morton explained in early June. “Two tariffs placed by the Trump administration have resulted in soaring prices that leave companies that rely on steel unable to compete.”
“Domestic production is taking time to gear up to fill the void, but prices are starting to stabilize,” he added. “I expect that they will be able to start hiring for the project by July.”
However, other officials were less upbeat about the future of the project. The Campbell County Industrial Development Board received payment from the state for $276,685 to cover the costs of refitting the building, including roof repairs, but the state delayed reimbursement for some time while looking more closely at the statements from BMT.
Because of those questions, officers of the local industrial board hesitated to pass the reimbursement through and the check to BMT remained unsigned. One day after Morton’s optimistic projection, the state officially requested the payment be returned “until our due diligence has been completed.”
Of the total of over $293,000 billed for reimbursement by BMT, the bulk of those costs, over $223,000, was paid to a third party, TEEM LLC, which carried out the construction work on the Taylor Machine building, while the balance of $70,000 was paid to Campbell Welding and Fabricating and $87.40 to Big Al’s Portable Toilets.
What gave state officials a reason to pause and worried the officers of the local industrial board enough to delay payment is the fact that TEEM LLC is a company also owned by BMT CEO Tony Simpson. Both companies share the same address at 180 Mount Paran Road in Jacksboro.
Further complicating the picture are problems BMT appears to be having with paying their bills. A judgment of $53,107 was levied against BMT in the Eighth Judicial District Circuit Court on May 9 by Fastenal, a Campbell County firm that produces industrial fasterners used in trailer production.
On June 7, a judgment was approved in the Eighth Judicial District Chancery Court on behalf of another BMT creditor, O’Neal Steel LLC, for $313,024.72. BMT did not contest the judgment.
It also came to the attention of the industrial board in May the electrical service had been disconnected to the Oswego facility. Morton said his understanding was the company had requested that power be shut off until they were ready to occupy the building.
Officials with the Jellico Utility Board confirmed that utilities were turned off to the building because BMT failed to pay the bill. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED 06/17/2019-6 AM)