Not All Entrepreneurs Believe in Property Rights

OdomBobbTitanCement2010-05-20.jpg“Titan Cement’s Bob Odom in March at the site of a proposed plant near Wilmington, N.C. The company says hundreds of jobs would be created.” Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

Is it just me, or does entrepreneur Lloyd Smith, quoted below, come across as a bit arrogant in believing the government should enforce his view of what Wilmington should be like, even if that means violating the property rights of the owner of the land on which the cement plant will be built? (And even if that means that would-be janitor Ron Givens remains unemployed.)

(p. A3) WILMINGTON, N.C.–The old economy and the new economy are squaring off in this coastal city, which is having second thoughts about revisiting its roots in heavy industry.

Titan Cement Co. of Greece wants to build one of the largest U.S. cement plants on the outskirts of the city and is promising hundreds of jobs. The factory would be on the site of a cement plant that closed in 1982 and today is populated mainly by fire ants, copperhead snakes and the occasional skateboarder.
The proposed $450 million plant by Titan America LLC, Titan’s U.S. unit, is welcome news to Ron Givens Sr., a 44-year-old unemployed Wilmington native. Mr. Givens’s father supported 12 children while working at the former Ideal Cement plant, and Mr. Givens and two brothers have now applied for jobs with Titan. “I will apply for janitor if that’s what is going to get me into that plant,” he said.
But thousands of opponents have petitioned local and state politicians to block the plan. They object to the emissions from the plant and say it will scare off tourists, retirees, entrepreneurs and others who might otherwise want to live here.
An initial state environmental review has dragged on for two years, and critics of the plant have filed a lawsuit seeking to further broaden the review. The governor, amid public pressure, has asked the State Bureau of Investigation to probe the plant’s permitting process.
“That’s their tactic: Delay, delay, and at some point Titan will leave,” said Bob Odom, Titan’s general manager in Wilmington, of opposition efforts.
Among the most vocal opponents is a fast-growing class of high-tech entrepreneurs and telecommuters who moved to Wilmington in recent years, drawn to the temperate climate, sandy beaches and good fishing. They argue the plant, by curbing the community’s appeal, will cost more jobs and tax revenue in the long run than it produces.
“I think we can be discriminating,” said Lloyd Smith, a 43-year-old entrepreneur who moved here from northern Virginia in 2001 and founded Cortech Solutions Inc., a neuroscience company with nine employees and about $5 million in annual sales.
The standoff in Wilmington reflects a broader tug-of-war across the country as communities try to kick-start employment. It is unclear how much manufacturing will power the long-term U.S. economic recovery–even in southern states that have long embraced heavy industry but have begun to feel the new economy’s pull.

For the full story, see:
MIKE ESTERL. “Clash of Old, New Economy; Cement Plant Is Resisted by Some Neighbors Who Would Rather Lure High-Tech Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 6, 2010): A3.


Source of graph: scanned from print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

2 thoughts on “Not All Entrepreneurs Believe in Property Rights”

  1. Hi Art, you asked the following question above: “Is it just me, or does entrepreneur Lloyd Smith, quoted below, come across as a bit arrogant in believing the government should enforce his view of what Wilmington should be like, even if that means violating the property rights of the owner of the land on which the cement plant will be built? (And even if that means that would-be janitor Ron Givens remains unemployed.)”
    You misunderstood his point(s), and the side the Cape Fear Economic Development Council has taken in response to the choking effect a cement plant would have to the region’s 21st century economic vitality and identity. First, I think we can all agree that the cement industry is in bad shape. In the USA, demand is down 60% and production has brought cement plants nationwide to the brink, and thousands of cement industry employees unemployed. A consolidation trend which started before the recession in the Americas and Europe is quickly spreading to Asia and Africa as well. This will hurt the industry further, with a bidding war for scarcer new assets and the potential of mindless investments in even greater excess capacity. At any rate, surely the last thing the world needs is a new cement plant, especially one on the already ailing Cape Fear River, on a fragile wetlands site closer tot he Atlantic Ocean than any cement plant on the entire Atlantic Seaboard.
    Now staring down FINAL new mandates from the EPA on pollution, from mercury to CO2….the industry itself is under siege trying to dismiss ever-more emerging alternatives to the old standard bearer “Portland Cement”, including evolutionary offerings frequently referred to as “green cement”. Not to mention a wave of revolutionary cement alternatives that are well-funded and promising disruptions to the industry’s decades old, high polluting processes.
    And this matters a lot to the CFEDC, because we want the Region to compete and be considered viable when it comes to the new global economy where people, ideas, businesses, and investors all move at warp speed. Many of the current and near-future, hyper-growth industries emphasize sustainability and the need for a high quality of place to attract the most qualified workers. We want Wilmington to participate with great success in the 21st century economy, and not languish in the dusty, dirty ideas of a handful of powerful men who dismiss the will of the majority. Sure, there are people who will always covet the janitor job at Titan Cement. But we’ll also need janitors at all the exciting NEW businesses and business leadership taking hold here, in businesses like entertainment software, smart phone applications, high-value, specialized manufacturing, medical devices and systems, and many more.
    Wilmington’s REMARKABLE quality of place has drawn a new generation of thinkers and doers to enjoy our amazing beaches and waterways…and to also launch new companies and ideas! We are wise enough now not to repeat the sins of the recent past, where in laying claim to “chemical capital of the southeast USA”, The Cape Fear Region endured a disproportionate number of EPA Super Fund designations, with lands still recovering from that woeful 1950’s-1960’s “eggs all in one basket” strategy. Somehow, the leaders must have felt they were merely “industrial developers” to the grave, and never modified or expanded their mindsets and strategies in the 80’s and 90’s to recruit multiple explosive growth tech industries segments that came in waves in that time frame, beginning with the microchip, then software, then the internet, etc.
    Of course innovation and creativity swept financial services, pharma, logistics, and and endless set of possible recruits were NOT brought into the region despite its magnetic, near hypnotic beauty and charm. And so that is what Lloyd is really trying to say: we can’t let a high-polluting cement plant to come and redefine our skyline with a belching smokestack from a dying era of anything goes industrialization, unneeded and unwanted by the majority of residents here, who regardless of age are being informed about and participating in the Cleantech, sustainable movements transcending every industry and product in the world today. Llyod is not trying to hold ANYBODY back, but rather move an entire region and its people forward, in ways that recent economic developers (or were they after all just heavy industrial/polluter peddlers?) We do of course have this issue, present in other regions in the country as well, where the multi-generational failure of our K-12 public education system leaves us with way too high a percentage of our potential workforce either chronically unemployed, or forced to work for lower and lower wages, as ruthless competition for all jobs happens in a severe downturn. Wilmington couldn’t avoid getting hit by the global credit mess and subsequent recession. But it is hitting us more severely than it ought to be. In economic development and jobs creation; and in relative school performance and related jobs quality, decades of missed opportunities in under-performing regions like Greater Wilmington come home and hit us HARD over the head when the overall economy stumbles. CFEDC and the folks in the Stop-Titan Movement hope to recreate the economic identity and jobs/earnings prospects for generations of current, past, and aspiring new residents in our amazing place on the Ocean. It will take new thinking, new ideas, and new leaders. In a nod to a former boss of mine who knows a thing or two about creating jobs, being creative, and thinking different, I end with this: I hope the 21st century economy in Wilmington is inspired by Steve Jobs and not Cement Jobs.
    With versatile businesses spanning multiple industry segments in our new, not quite yet NOW economy, everyone will get a job who wants a job, and hopefully residents will never stop learning, and including lifelong skills creation as an integral part of their personal jobs creation strategy. The Stop Titan Economic Development Platform will never be silenced, and we shall see how many lobbyists, local businessmen, local politicians, and cement industry talking heads it will take to challenge the will of the people. Local politicians who finagled the secretive deal for taxpayer millions funneled back into the Greek Titan Inc. have been swept from office, with the final cleansing coming this November. Guys have been falling like leaves here recently for illegal and unethical behavior in an array of embarrassing incidents spanning both private/public sectors. Who’s Next??

  2. Thanks, Tom for defending my honor. Art, you’ve taken a huge leap from my six word quote. Let’s take the corporate property rights tack for a moment. How about the rights of the local farmers whose produce will we showered in mercury, particulate and other pollutants, making their fitness for consumption questionable? How about the countless tourism businesses at Topsail, Surf City and Wrightsville Beach whose cache takes an immediate hit when visitors catch sight from the beach of the 40 story smokestack looming nearby? How about the countless businesses catering to recreational fishermen whose business will be hurt when the methyl mercury levels rise and even more species are added to the non-consumable list? How about the commercial fishermen and the seafood distributors, whose disappearing product used to spawn in the North Cape Fear River, which is now mercury impaired and could be worse if Titan is allowed to emit at the levels it has requested? Do you really believe that manufacturers have special property rights that exceed those of other businesses?
    Let’s clarify what you seem to be saying. Property rights ENTITLE a foreign corporation to $4.2M of our tax dollars, and they TRUMP the individual rights of all the local citizens whose health will be damaged by the proposed emission levels from the plant (over 200 doctors have signed a petition against the plant). I could go on all day. Could it be that you point out stories like this to illustrate your preference for property rights over individual rights? I assume you also believe the recent action granting corporations the same rights as individuals regarding political contributions did not go far enough. Maybe we should let corporations vote, too. Clarification – corporations are NOT people, and whatever rights they have should NOT trump individual rights.
    Oh, and back to what I actually said about Titan. I said we can be more discriminating, and I meant that our elected officials should not have offered them $4.2M to bring their stinking plant here. I note that you readily accept upstanding corporate citizen Bob Odom’s assertion that we have impeded Titan’s rights. Check the record – we have simply held them to the current LEGAL process for getting the permits they need to build the plant. If they had submitted willingly to a full review from the beginning, they could have been done by now. Instead, they tried so hard to avoid a full review that they are now facing significantly stricter regulations than at the time they applied, due to new EPA regulations on mercury. New regulations on other pollutants are moving through the process, too, so the longer Titan tries to avoid a comprehensive review, the tougher the regulatory environment gets.
    They misjudged the political environment here, and they underestimated the will of the people to fight for their rights. Power to the people!

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