Algenol CEO proves jobs are there, says expansion will be outside Lee County

Daily News File
Algenol Biofuels co-founders Craig Smith, left, and Paul Woods stand inside one of six growing rooms where algae is grown inside the facility located in South Fort Myers. Algenol, an industrial biotechnology company that creates ethanol from algae, says they’ve created hundreds of jobs and gone above what the county set as a requirement.

Photo by Lexey Swall

Daily News File Algenol Biofuels co-founders Craig Smith, left, and Paul Woods stand inside one of six growing rooms where algae is grown inside the facility located in South Fort Myers. Algenol, an industrial biotechnology company that creates ethanol from algae, says they’ve created hundreds of jobs and gone above what the county set as a requirement.

Interview: Algenol CEO Paul Woods

He defends his company.

In response to what he characterizes as attacks from a Lee County commissioner, Algenol CEO Paul Woods invited members of the local media to tour his 30-acre headquarters and meet his employees.

Woods, who has built a reputation for outspoken bluntness, said he was “exceptionally disappointed” at Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass for questioning how many jobs the biotechnology company has created in Lee County.

“Cecil’s going to have to defend himself in court because I’m taking legal action,” Woods said. “It’s not right.”

Algenol, a company that grows algae and converts it to biofuels such as ethanol, has to create 108 jobs by the end of February as part of a $10 million economic incentive agreement it inked with the county.

During a commission meeting last week, Pendergrass asked county staff how many jobs Algenol has created to date. When county staff members did not have an answer for him, Pendergrass asked them to find out.

“I have a pretty clear suspicion there are not 108 jobs there,” Pendergrass told staff then.

Monday, Woods shared copies of the company’s fourth quarter 2013 ADP payroll report that states Algenol has 127 employees as of January.

But Pendergrass already should know that because the commissioner toured the facility last October, Woods said.

And that could be the last visit Pendergrass makes to Algenol for a while.

“Cecil is not welcome here,” Woods said.

Pendergrass said “it’s amazing” Woods is reacting “the way that he is.”

“I am the gatekeeper to this $10 million,” Pendergrass said, wondering why Woods is “defensive.” “I have the right to ask the question. ... I think it’s insulting this guy would act so rude.”

Algenol has plans to create a manufacturing facility in addition to its Fort Myers headquarters. That facility would require an investment that could be in excess of $40 million and would create more than 2,000 jobs, Woods said.

Right now, Lee is out of the running as a potential site because of Pendergrass’ comments and because the rest of Lee’s commission has failed to speak up in defense of Algenol, the CEO said.

“I’ll take it to a county that wants us,” Woods said.

This is not the first time Woods has threatened to change his expansion plans.

Last year, he chastised Gov. Rick Scott for signing a bill repealing a state requirement for 10 percent ethanol in gasoline. Woods said then that he started searching for sites outside of Florida.

All seems well now, though. In January, Scott awarded Algenol with a 2013 Governor’s Innovators in Business award for major market innovation and entrepreneurship. Woods, who showcased the award to reporters Monday, praised Scott for recognizing Algenol’s contributions.

The company has received nearly $10 million in taxpayer money from the county’s Financial Incentives for Recruiting Strategic Targets program, a $25 million fund created in 2008 to lure high-wage businesses to Lee County.

Rick Michael, director of Lee County’s Economic Development Office, said Algenol has met its requirements.

“There’s no question there’s people working here,” Michael said, who attended Monday’s press event.

The economic incentive benchmarks are typically covered in reports filed with the Economic Development Office on an agreed-to schedule, Michael said.

Algenol’s most recent report to the county, received June 26 by the Economic Development Office, states the company had created 108 jobs with an average base salary of $96,622 as of Feb. 28, 2013.

For a closer look at the company’s job creation numbers, the county will probably review the unemployment compensation records that Algenol has turned into the state, Michael said.

“I don’t see a problem with the company right now, but we’ll complete our review and we’ll report that back to the board of county commissioners,” he said.

Florida Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, who was also at the event, believes Algenol has complied, but doesn’t blame Pendergrass for asking questions.

Another company that received almost $4.7 million in FIRST funds has been under scrutiny. VR Laboratories, LLC has created just two of the 208 jobs it promised Lee County by 2017, according to the company’s own tally.

“Everyone is hypervigilant in guarding the use of funds in Lee County,” Fitzenhagen said. “I cannot ever fault a commissioner for trying to safeguard the county’s finances.”

She wants Algenol’s manufacturing facility to be built in Lee County and promised to do what she can to make it happen.

The county’s Economic Development Office also plans to help smooth things over with Woods.

“It’s our desire not only for the company to grow here, but it’s also our interest and desire to see the company expand here as well,” Michael said.

Each of Algenol’s employees wore white collared company shirts and numbered name tags. They met for a staff meeting, which featured a lunch that included hamburgers, hot dogs and soft drinks.

Ken Walters, who said he has been with Algenol since December 2011 and works in shipping and receiving, said there are definitely 127 employees at Algenol.

“It’s pretty obvious when you look and see, we are not a scam,” Walters said. “We are very passionate about what we are doing.”

Algenol only has trade secrets to hide, but he understands the county commissioner has a responsibility to perform, Walters said.

“The whole county got burned on the VR Labs deal,” Walters said. “I think we’ve brought in above and beyond what (our) contract was, and we’ll continue to grow.”

Tabitha Amendolara, senior lab technician who started working at Algenol a month before Walters, said she moved from New Jersey to Southwest Florida specifically for that job.

“We have a great company. It’s a great place to work,” she said.

When asked by a reporter if she was a paid actress, she laughed.

“I’m a real scientist,” Amendolara said.

© 2014 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 6

dvclifford writes:

A little give and take is needed here. As a taxpayer, I applaud Commissioner Pendergast's actions as a steward of the funds; however, if Algeron has created fewer jobs than promised, prorate the payment and amend the award to pay the balance when the jobs get there. Do not jeopardize the company's future growth plans in Lee County. Mr. Woods comment that Mr. Pendergast should know that Algeron has 127 employees as of Jan 31 because he toured in October puzzles me, unless the Commissioner is expected to project from Oct numbers. Let's cool down here and move forward a little more professionally.

lionfishhunter writes:

I don't live in Lee County but I applaud the commissioner's vigilance on behalf of taxpayers of Lee County. I also applaud the work that Algenol is doing. Maybe Mr. Woods needs to grow some thicker skin along with his algae.

intense writes:

From the article:
“I have a pretty clear suspicion there are not 108 jobs there,” Pendergrass told staff then.

Offensive? Of Course It Is!!!

The sensible thing to say was: "Every job that Algenol has created in Lee County is valued and appreciated. For the sake of grant compliance, we need to verify that the grant requirements have been met."

But instead, the commissioner implied that Algenol was either lying or hiding something.

Now, all of Lee County might suffer because Pendergrass has foot in mouth disease.

Don't blame Algenol. They are free to expand WHEREVER they choose. Walk a yard in Mr. Woods' barefeet first before you judge how much bureaucratic b.s. he ought to stomach.

MasonDixon writes:

Are they actually producing and/or supplying anything?

jrusso writes:

in response to Jude1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why would we elect Kathy Walters? She obviously can’t think for herself. I haven’t heard her one time ask for my vote, it’s always you spouting Ed FitzGerald’s lies hoping to get her elected. Why would I want Kathy Walters as a BSU Director when she is programed to puppet what ever Ed FitzGerald says?

Why would I want Ed FitzGerald as a BSU Director when he spews the vilest venom and lies towards honorable men in an attempt at gaining their seat on the board?

Why would I want Pat McCourt as a BSU Director when he is ready to puppet the musings of Ed FitzGerald and Kathy Walters making it three votes for what ever FitzGerald wants?

jrusso writes:

in response to Jude1:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Jude and Ed were way wrong about the market value of treated water. They claim it’s $1.90 per thousand gallons of water which means by their calculations BSU customers lost out on $9,792,997.

I believe if you’re going to make up an arbitrary number for the market value, why not make up a doozy? At $5.90 per thousand gallons BSU would have stolen $30,409,833 dollars from the users of their water!!!!! At $10.90 per thousand they would have undercharged $56,180,878.00!!! This is theft on a grand scale! Using these made up numbers I’m six times as mad as I was with Ed and Jude’s made up numbers! Something has to be done here!!!!

Vote for Ed FitzGerald and Kathy Walters for BSU Director because their made up numbers are better than any other made up numbers out there! And that’s a fact!

J Russo

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