Category Archives: Entrepreneurialism

Regulations and the Costs of Doing Business in Virginia

Courtesy of Mercatus Center George Mason University

by James C. Sherlock

About the only category I found interesting in the “Top States for Business” rankings by CNBC, other than the progressive metrics that are featured in many of the categories, is “Cost of Doing Business.”

Virginia’s worst score among the six categories of metrics is that one. The methodology used for costs of doing business is defined, but vaguely:

As inflation ravages company balance sheets, we measure the strength of each state’s business tax climate. We also measure wage and utility costs, as well as the cost of office and industrial space. And we consider incentives and tax breaks that states offer to reduce business costs, with special emphasis on incentives targeted toward development in disadvantaged communities.

So, in this category, CNBC is grading government-imposed taxes and incentives as well as market-driven costs.

On the government side, the rating favors lower taxes and higher incentives. The “special emphasis” item may skew the results, but we do not know how much.

Lower taxes are conservative priorities. Government incentives which skew market forces and reward both politically trendy operations and big donors are not. Continue reading

Irish-Americans in Northern Virginia Caught in COVID Fraud

National Flag of Ireland

by James C. Sherlock

I am of Irish heritage. Grandparents and great grandparents on both sides immigrated to America in the 19th century.

Imagine my shame when I read a recent news release from the Department of Justice.

My people have taken entrepreneurialism a step too far. Continue reading

Masters of Hype and Puffery

Former President Clinton at the GreenTech “pilot plant” in July 2012.

This is the fifth in a series of articles about Terry McAuliffe and GreenTech.

by James A. Bacon and Carol J. Bova

On July 6, 2012, GreenTech Automotive launched the rollout of the “all-American” MyCar electric vehicle at a ceremony attended by former President Bill Clinton, the governor of Mississippi, the assistant secretary of Homeland Security and, as described by local media, “an overflow crowd.”

It was a festive occasion. Clinton lauded company chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, who was also in attendance, for overcoming their political rivalries and delivering a tremendous manufacturing project for the state of Mississippi. 

McAuliffe, too, was upbeat. “For too long, America has been inventing products here and sending the production jobs overseas,” he said. “But … we’re proud to bring manufacturing jobs back and prove that the U.S. is still the world leader in technological innovation and manufacturing.”

The day before, McAuliffe had told the New York Times that he thought the company could produce 10,000 cars in 2013. He quoted an $18,000 price tag for a top-of-the-line MyCar, with less capable versions selling for less, implying potential revenues in the realm of $150 million. During the ceremony itself, he announced big news: Domino’s Pizza Inc. would exclusively use the MyCar to deliver pizzas in 10,000 locations across the U.S.

Photographers snapped pictures of a grinning Clinton toodling around the cement floor of the pilot plant in a MyCar decked out with the Domino’s Pizza logo. Other photographs showed GreenTech employees industriously working on an assembly line of MyCars. Continue reading

Shearing the Sheep

This is the fourth in a series of posts about Terry McAuliffe and GreenTech Automotive.

by James A. Bacon and Carol J. Bova

The Chinese citizens who lost $500,000 each from investing in GreenTech Automotive were not happy with their setback. While they had ponied up their money as part of a scheme to get a U.S. visa under the EB-5 program, many thought they would get their money back. When they didn’t, they felt cheated. Twenty-seven of them banded together and filed suit against Xiaolin “Charles” Wang, Anthony Rodham and Terry McAuliffe, the principals of GreenTech and its allied fund-raising arm Gulf Coast Management.

The outcome of the case, Xia Bi vs. McAuliffe, hinged on matters of law. Boasting, exaggeration and hype regarding future events, referred to as “puffery,” which the defendants indisputably engaged in, do not constitute fraud. Although some of the Chinese plaintiffs’ allegations did describe misstatements of fact, said federal appeals court judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III in a 2009 ruling, they failed to show that they had based their investment decisions upon those misstatements. Accordingly, he upheld a lower court order to dismiss the case.

Nevertheless, Xia Bi vs. McAuliffe provides insight into how the GreenTech fund-raising operation worked. It is abundantly clear why the Chinese investors felt cheated, even if they could not win their case in court. As Wilkinson wrote, “There are no laurels in this case, no accolades to be bestowed.” Continue reading

Dreams from the Opium Den

This is the third article in a series about Terry McAuliffe and GreenTech.

by James A. Bacon and Carol J. Bova

When partners Xiaolin “Charlie” Wang, Anthony Rodham, and Terry McAuliffe banded together in 2009 to finance and build an electric vehicle enterprise known as GreenTech Automotive, they thought big. Very big. In a 2009 offering memorandum pitched to Chinese investors, they stated they aimed to grow their flimsily financed start-up into an automotive behemoth eventually capable of generating up to $33 billion in revenue.

“If full production of one million vehicles is realized,” elaborated the document, GreenTech’s manufacturing facility in Tunica County, Miss., would be “one of the largest automobile manufacturing plants in the world.”

In retrospect — after GreenTech went bankrupt having produced only a handful of cars, burned through more than $140 million, and left barely $6 million behind for investors and creditors in the bankruptcy settlement — such aspirations seem wildly disconnected from reality. Whether McAuliffe and his partners believed such targets were remotely realistic is a question only they can answer.

Looking at GreenTech from the outside, some described the business as a scheme to snooker millions of dollars from naive Chinese investors. A more charitable explanation is that the GreenTech partners genuinely believed their own hype, hoping they could bootstrap one fund-raising effort into enough progress in building the enterprise that they could make it to the next fund-raising round with a better story, raise some more money, make more progress, and hook the next round of investors. In other words, in such a view, their business plan was fake until you make it.

Whatever the thought process, it was an abject failure. Chinese investors lost almost everything, they felt cheated, and the three principals opened themselves to accusations of fraud. Continue reading

A Handshake Deal Gone Bad

This is the second in a series of articles about Terry McAuliffe and Greentech.

by James A. Bacon and Carol J. Bova

Fourteen  years ago, Benjamin Yeung was a Chinese entrepreneur whose companies manufactured and sold minibuses, passenger cars and business vehicles in China. In 2007 he launched a venture with the idea of building small hybrid cars in the United States. What made the plan unusual was the source of financing: Chinese investors willing to invest $500,000 in the U.S. in order to get a green card under a new U.S. initiative, the EB-5 Investor Pilot Program.

Although he needed an interpreter, Yeung was comfortable doing business in the United States. His wife, Rhea, was an American citizen, and he owned a residence in California. According to the account he gave in a court affidavit, he set up a holding company, Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Holdings, Inc. (HK Holdings), and an operating subsidiary, Hybrid Kinetic Automotive Corporation (HKAC).

Yeung said he made wife Rhea the sole shareholder of HK Automotive Holdings. But to run the venture in its start-up phase, he brought on a young Chinese man living in Northern Virginia, Xia0lin “Charlie” Wang. Wang was highly credentialed. He had earned an undergraduate law degree from Xiangtan University, an M.A. degree in development studies from Ohio University, and a degree in international law from Duke University. On his resume, he listed experience as a capital markets partner in the Washington, D.C., office of a prominent New York law firm. Continue reading

Where Did $140 Million in GreenTech Money Go?

This is the first in a series of articles about Terry McAuliffe and GreenTech Automotive.

by James A. Bacon and Carol J. Bova

In September 2016, the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) of the state of Mississippi began undertaking a review of the contracts signed by the state’s economic development authority. The goal was to see if the corporations benefiting from state incentive money had made good on the capital investment and job creation they had promised. Several companies were targeted for a closer look.

One of those was Greentech Automotive Inc., a Virginia company whose chairman in 2011 when the Memorandum of Understanding was signed was Terry McAuliffe.

GreenTech had announced ambitious plans for a multibillion-dollar business by designing and manufacturing hybrid and electric vehicles. Between 2009 and 2013 the company raised a total of $141.5 million from Chinese investors under the EB-5 program, which gave foreigners a U.S. green card in exchange for a $500,000 investment in the United States. Incentive financing from the state of Mississippi and Tunica County, Miss., amounted to another $6 million. All told, GreenTech raised at least $147.5 million in funding.

Despite a GreenTech commitment to invest $60 million in the manufacturing plant, very few cars ever rolled off the assembly line… assuming there even was an assembly line. The Mississippi auditor’s report could find documentation for only $3.4 million spent on automotive assembly equipment and parts. Further, despite promises to create 350 full-time jobs, the auditors determined that the company had never supported more than 94 active, full-time jobs in Mississippi at a time. GreenTech made only a single $150,000 payment to the state.

Despite having scrimped on manufacturing expenditures, the company listed minimal assets when it filed for bankruptcy in 2017. In a final settlement, agreed to last year, investors and creditors recovered only $6.6 million. Mississippi and Tunica County recovered only $575,000.

What happened to the other $140 million? Continue reading

Sidney, We’ll Miss You

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Sidney Gunst, who died last week, was best known as the pioneering developer of the Innsbrook office park in Henrico County — the biggest employment center in the Richmond metropolitan area outside of downtown Richmond. The Richmond Times Dispatch’s Greg Gilligan did a fine job on short notice of capturing Sidney’s inimitable spirit in an article published yesterday. But to those of us who knew and loved him — and we are many — there is so much more to say. God broke the mold when he made Sidney. Everybody has a story to tell about him. I’ll tell just a few of mine.

The thing I loved most about Sidney, aside from his irrepressible sense of humor, is that he was a man of great enthusiasms. He joked about still being ADHD at the age of 70, and there was probably some truth to his self-diagnosis. He was endlessly curious, and he had an incredibly wide range of interests. But he didn’t dabble. When he got involved in a project, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly.

On this blog, I have written about Sidney’s crusade to redevelop the Innsbrook office park for the 21st century. Innsbrook was designed for the autocentric age of the 1980s and 1990s, but the world had changed. Energy was flowing back into the central cities, and he knew that Innsbrook had to change with the times. He spearheaded the effort, which is finally beginning to show results, of converting the vast tract of scattered office buildings and parking lots into a vibrant, around-the-clock, mixed-use community.

But business was only one of his interests. Continue reading

310 Virginia Companies in the Inc 5000 This Year

Charis Jones, CEO of Sassy Jones, No. 75 in the Inc. 5000

And now for a bit of good news. Virginia’s entrepreneurial economy is faring very well, thank you. This year 310 Virginia companies are ranked in the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing privately held companies. Five were ranked in the Top 100.

How does that compare nationally? In very rough numbers, Virginia accounts for one out of every 40 Americans and one out of every 40 dollars of U.S. GDP. But one out of 16 private fast-growth companies is located here.

As always, the entrepreneurial ferment is concentrated in Northern Virginia, which has the best developed venture capital network, the most highly educated workforce, and a deep reservoir of IT talent. Nearly 75% of Virginia’s Inc. 5000 — 227 companies — reside in the Virginia portion of the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The Richmond metro (44 companies) and Charlottesville metro (6 companies) also punch above their weight. Continue reading

Selling Virginia Pot? Expect A Union Label

by Steve Haner

When Virginians begin to buy marijuana from state-licensed providers, if Governor Ralph Northam has his way, along with his smiling visage on every baggie of grass you may also find a union label.

I’m kidding about getting high with the governor’s image on the package but using the legalization bill to promote union political goals through a back door is no joke. Future state marijuana licensees may be in danger of losing their ability to sell pot if they fail to live up to various union-driven labor law requirements, set out below.  Continue reading

Podcast: How the General Assembly Has Changed

By Peter Galuszka

I haven’t contributed much to BR lately since I am slammed with non-Virginia work. I did manage to help out on a Podcast about how the General Assembly has changed the state over the last two years as Democrats have gained power.

This Podcast is produced by WTJU, the University of Virginia radio station. I do a weekly talk show on state politics and economics and, on occasion, work on Podcasts.

Joining me is Sally Hudson, a delegate from the Charlottesville area. She is Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics. Sally studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford and is one of the youngest members of the General Assembly.

I hope you enjoy it.

COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading