LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky on Thursday passed on a contractual right to demand that the company formerly known as Braidy Industries return $15 million that state taxpayers invested in 2017 under former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin to bring an aluminum rolling mill to the northeast part of the state.
Instead, the state has agreed to hold off until March 31, 2022 on any potential demand that the company, now called Unity Aluminum, return the state money.
The company had asked for the extension, saying it continues to raise capital to build the $1.7 billion plant near Ashland, which at one time was projected to open in 2020 but remains in the planning stage.
In a statement, Unity Aluminum said it was "grateful" for the move.
“We are going to continue to work tirelessly to finance and build a state-of-the-art aluminum rolling mill near Ashland that will be a key part of the Eastern Kentucky economy for many years to come," the company said.
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has said he wouldn’t hesitate to get the state’s money back if the aluminum plant doesn’t appear viable.
But just before it came time to decide whether to seek repayment – Unity missed a Dec. 31 deadline to secure $1 billion for the plant’s construction – Beshear in December stepped back and left it to others to make the call.
The board of Commonwealth Seed Capital, the state-owned venture fund that oversees the investment, voted unanimously to grant the extension on Thursday after discussing it for about 15 minutes in private under an exception to the Kentucky Open Meetings Act.
During the meeting, Commonwealth Seed Capital president Gene Fuqua described the board’s action as “extend(ing) the timeframe for Unity Aluminum to build their mill to March 31, 2022 based on the parameters of the letter the board’s been provided.”
No other comments were made before the board voted and adjourned. Fuqua didn’t immediately return a call for comment. He hasn’t acknowledged several inquiries from WDRB about Unity Aluminum this month.
Commonwealth Seed did not immediately respond to a public records request seeking the terms of the extension and the letter Fuqua referenced.
While Kentucky still doesn’t have the aluminum plant and its promised 600 high-paying jobs, the founder of Braidy Industries, Craig Bouchard, walked away with $6 million after being ousted last year. And Terry Gill, who previously oversaw Kentucky’s investment in Braidy Industries as Bevin’s economic development secretary, became an executive with the company.
The company has “cleaned up past issues and prepared the project to be professionally presented to the financial markets,” Unity Aluminum Acting CEO Don Foster told Commonwealth Seed Capital in a Jan. 15 letter. “Unity Aluminum remains committed to this project that will bring significant investment, jobs, and economic development to the Ashland area.”
While Beshear said it wasn’t his call to make, the governor signaled last week that he would be open to giving Unity Aluminum more time to make the plant a reality.
"I think it’s fair to say all parties want to give development in Eastern Kentucky – and everywhere in the state – every reasonable chance to succeed," Beshear spokesman Sebastian Kitchen told WDRB last week.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Republican who joined a unanimous legislative vote in 2017 to borrow the $15 million for the Braidy Industries investment, told WDRB last week that’s past time for Kentucky to demand the money back.
McDaniel said the company should be able to let Kentucky walk away whole without dooming the plan for the mill.
“If this whole project is contingent on a single, $15 million investment, it is never going to work anyway,” McDaniel said.