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EDC Never Discussed 38 Studios After September 2010

Thursday, May 24, 2012

 

Curt Schilling’s faltering video game company was rarely mentioned—let alone discussed—during Economic Development Corporation (EDC) board meetings in the 19 months after signing a lease to move into downtown Providence, a review of board meeting minutes dating back to September 2010 shows.

The board and its subcommittees held 63 meetings between September 27, 2010 and last month, but 38 Studios was referenced on only a handful of occasions during that time span and the company’s financial health was never talked about.

In July 2010, the EDC’s board voted 8-1 to award Schilling’s company a $75 million loan guarantee to move his gaming company from Massachusetts to the Ocean State. Schilling pledged to create 450 direct jobs and another 1,113 indirect jobs by 2013.

Last week the company attempted to pass a bad check to cover a $1.125 million payment due to the EDC and failed to make payroll. Governor Lincoln Chafee has labeled the company’s first game, “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,” a “flop” and has said he is opposed to offering anymore taxpayer funds to 38 Studios.

A Company Doesn’t Run Out of Money Overnight

But while the Governor, who campaigned against the deal in 2010, says the state is attempting to do anything it can to keep Schilling’s company from going under, critics are now questioning why state officials weren’t paying closer attention to the company’s finances.

“To me the much bigger question is what’s been happening over the past 17 months,” General Treasurer Gina Raimondo said in an interview on the Dan Yorke Show on Wednesday. “How has the Governor and his staff in his capacity as chair of the EDC board been monitoring this investment? A company does not run out of money overnight. “

Raimondo, who was also opposed to the deal in 2010, said she doesn’t believe the government should be in the business of high risk venture capital. She says she asked to be briefed on the situation last week, but Chafee postponed their meeting. Rather than reschedule their sitdown, the two have taken to the airwaves to take jabs at one another over the issue this week.

During a press briefing at the State House Wednesday evening, Chafee said Raimondo has not been factually accurate with her criticism.

But Raimondo isn’t the only one that has been critical with the lack of information that has been provided about Schilling’s company. Donna Perry, executive direction of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC), said it is time for either the Governor or a coalition of reform-oriented lawmakers to demand that a top-to-bottom review be conducted on the oversight procedures the EDC is supposed to follow.

“The EDC has a large budget, a seasoned deputy director, a full Board, legal counsel and a staff and it defies logic if the agency lacks a transparent, well defined process to vigorously monitor companies awarded loans,” Perry said. “It’s very unsettling to learn that the EDC believes it’s an adequate response to tell the Governor and the state that no documented reports exist from the supposed monitoring of 38 Studios by the IBM Corporation.”

Not Chump Change

Schilling has been unwilling to speak with the press, but the outspoken former Red Sox ace has taken to Facebook to say state officials and the public have been misinformed about what is happening at 38 Studios.

“I wanted to clear up some misinformation around 38 Studios first product, Reckoning,” Schilling said in response to Chafee’s criticism. “Sales of Reckoning OUTPERFORMED EA’s expectations and sold more than 1.2 million units in the game’s first 90 days in the market.”

But State Rep. Doreen Costa remains skeptical. She said the EDC should have been monitoring 38 Studios long before it defaulted on a payment and stopped paying its employees. She said she is frustrated because the EDC’s money could have gone to small businesses in that state.

“It’s not like we gave them chump change,” Costa said.

Job Fund Discussed at Length

The $75 million came from the EDC’s Job Creation Guaranty Program (JCGP), which the General Assembly expanded from $50 million to $125 million shortly before the EDC reached an agreement with 38 Studios.

The JCBP has been discussed at length in numerous board meetings over the last two years, with several members suggesting the EDC do a better job at marketing the program. To date, only 38 Studios, NuLabel and The Corporate Marketplace have received loan guarantees.

The EDC also implemented a rule that caps the amount a company can receive at $10 million, $65 million less than Schilling was awarded.

But while board members discussed the program and reviewed applications, that September 27, 2010 meeting was the last time 38 Studios’ finances were discussed until the board held an emergency meeting last week. During that September meeting, executive director Keith Stokes mentioned that the “favorable bond ratings are an indication of the value of the 38 Studios project.”

Stokes resigned from his post last week.

A Major Overhaul Needed

For University of Rhode Island economist Dr. Leonard Lardaro, the 38 Studios saga shows the state needs to revamp the way it conducts its business. He said simply blaming to EDC would be a failure to recognize the larger problem.

“We start with a major overhaul of our tax and cost structure (i.e., taxes, fees, regulations, electricity costs, and skills of our labor force), put in place a mechanism for systematic analysis on an ongoing basis, for both the Governor and the Legislature, then incentivize investment-oriented spending over consumption-oriented spending,” Lardaro said.

But he remains skeptical that change is on the horizon.

“So does RI have the political structure or the will to do this? Probably not until the people of Rhode Island finally begin to demand results from their leaders,” he said.

Dan McGowan can be reached at dmcgowan@golocalprov.com.
 

 

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