Concerned that the company has not lived up to the terms of its lease, the city of Carrabelle will ask Bruce McCormack, CEO of Gulf Unmanned Systems Center (GUSC). to attend the September city meeting.
During the New Business portion of the August 4 Carrabelle city meeting, commissioners discussed the city’s lease with GUSC.
On Feb. 18, 2014 after five years of vacancy, Carrabelle city commissioners voted unanimously to lease the factory building on John McInnis Road to GUSC after much negotiation. The lease was signed about three months later.
The 65,000 square foot structure was abandoned by modular home manufacturer Greensteel when the firm declared bankruptcy in 2009. Centennial Bank took possession of the lease during bankruptcy proceedings.
GUSC agreed to pay $10 per year to lease the factory for the first 15 years, after which the cost of rent would be adjusted. Under the terms of the lease, GUSC must provide employee records and proof of insurance annually.
At last week’s meeting, Mayor Brenda La Paz quoted GUSC’s lease saying that the company agreed to employ 10 people full time with medical benefits during its first year in operation, increase this by 10 the second year and was to have had 30 employees by the end of the third year, with a preference to Carrabelle residents.
LaPaz said the city sent McCormack a registered letter asking him for employment records and documentation of liability insurance for the Hexaport building. She said he did not reply to the letter.
La Paz said a second letter was posted to GUSC in April and the city received documentation of a general liability policy that expired in June, along with an Excel spreadsheet showing that the last six employees were laid off in January of this year.
City Attorney Dan Hartman replied with a letter saying that the documents provided insufficient documentation. GUSC then provided employee documentation for employees, including Social Security and tax information for 2015.
La Paz said very few of the employees were working full time. She said there did not appear to be any significant activity at either GUSC’s corporate offices located in the old Gulf State Community Bank building on US 98 in downtown Carrabelle or at Hexaport.
In an interview held this week, McCormack, who did not attend the August 4 meeting, said he had not been notified that GUSC would be discussed. He said Commissioner Cal Allen contacted him on August 3 in Panama City where McCormack was recovering from cataract surgery.
McCormack said he will provide Carrabelle with a copy of his renewed liability insurance.
He said GUSC now has four people on its payroll, none of whom are natives of Carrabelle: Mark Milliken, of Apalachicola, a retired rear admiral who is president of GUSC; John Lambert, a retired Navy submarine captain who is the firm’s chief technical officer; and McCormack and his wife Cherl, who is employed as the firm’s bookkeeper.
McCormack provided the Times with a spreadsheet showing eight contracts he said are completed, and 11 he said are signed and awaiting funding, including a contract to develop an unmanned lawnmower for the Florida Department of Transportation.
McCormack said he has employed a lobbying firm in Tallahassee to pursue government contracts. He said he has been designated US sales and training agent for UAV Factory, a Latvian firm that manufactures aerial drones. He said he will pick up sample equipment from Huntsville, Alabama in October.
He said he is negotiating with the Franklin County Schools to provide vocational training for people to work in the unmanned system industry. McCormack said he expects to start seeing RFPs for government defense projects in October, and that he hopes soon to be in a position to hire more employees.
Referring to his current minimal staff, McCormack said, “If I was thinking of leaving town, would I be paying my bills? I can’t afford to carry people on overhead.”
At the end of the discussion on August 4, commissioners voted unanimously to have City Administrator Courtney Millender send a letter informing him that GUSC is not in compliance with their lease and asking him to appear at the September city meeting.