Leaders Rally to Defense of EDC

The head of Brevard County’s main economic development agency is trying to reassure local business and political leaders that her organization did nothing wrong in its dealings with the technology company BlueWare.

That company is ensnared in a political scandal that led to the arrest earlier this month of former Brevard County Clerk of Courts Mitch Needelman and BlueWare Chief Executive Officer Rose Harr.

Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast President and CEO Lynda Weatherman sent an email Tuesday to EDC board members, saying: “While the alleged actions of officials from this company, BlueWare, and others in the community are unfortunate, I assure you the EDC’s role involved only economic development best practices.”

Needelman and Harr were charged with bribery and bid-tampering in connection with a $8.52 million document-scanning contract Needelman’s office awarded to BlueWare. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s Office allege Needelman illegally steered the contract to BlueWare in return for secret campaign contributions.

The EDC helped BlueWare in getting approval for nearly $1.8 million in economic incentives from the state, Brevard County and Melbourne for BlueWare’s plan to expand in Melbourne. The company never received those incentives because it did not meet its job-creation promises.

In her email to EDC’s more than 120 directors representing local businesses and government bodies, Weatherman said: “Our role in the BlueWare project centered on widely accepted economic development activities. During the FDLE investigation, the EDC received a subpoena for records associated with the client project. While the EDC was not under investigation, these documents were provided as requested, and may become public record at the close of any legal action/trial.”

The FDLE last week confirmed that the EDC was not under investigation.

Several EDC board members contacted Thursday and Friday said they remain supportive of Rockledge-based economic development organization.

“I think the EDC and its staff are doing a fantastic job,” said Scott Sorensen, president and chief executive officer the Melbourne-based Sorensen Corp. “The EDC has been instrumental in helping improve the local economy over the last five years.”

Sorensen said the situation involving BlueWare was unfortunate, but it must be played against all the successes the EDC has been involved with over the years.

Similar accolades came from Frank Sullivan, long involved in Brevard’s citrus industry and now a Canaveral Port Authority commissioner.

“The EDC does an outstanding job of attracting businesses to the community that create jobs,” Sullivan said. “They really do what they say they’re going to do.”

In BlueWare’s case, Sullivan said he can’t see where the EDC did anything it wouldn’t have done for any other company looking to move to Brevard. All the EDC does, he said, is essentially walk company representatives through the process, letting them know what programs and incentives are available and thresholds for obtaining those benefits.

Sullivan said there is only so much an organization like the EDC can discover about a company’s background.

“They’re not in a position to find out everything about a company,” Sullivan said.

In a statement to FLORIDA TODAY, Weatherman described the EDC board’s reaction to her email to them as “supportive and positive.”

“As in any organization governed by a board, members have a right to be informed of the activities of the organization,” Weatherman said, explaining why she sent out the email.

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