High-tech center's first in, first out
By LISA GREENE
© St. Petersburg Times,
Nova Precision Components, the first tenant of Pinellas County's high-tech STAR Center, has become the first company there to shut its doors, leaving behind a $175,000 rent bill it hasn't paid the county.
But the company is auctioning its equipment and has signed an agreement stating the proceeds will go to the county until the debt is paid.
Nova started to fall behind on its $20,000 monthly rent about a year ago, STAR Center director Ken Hall said Thursday.
Hall told county commissioners this week that the center "may have erred on the side of being too lenient." But company leaders were trying to repay their debts, Hall said, and he didn't want the county rent to be the factor that forced the company to shut down.
Commissioners voted this week to end Nova's lease four years early, provided Nova repays the debt. Hall was right to try to help Nova, said Commissioner Susan Latvala.
"I think he made a good business decision," she said. "Had we pushed them out five days after the rent was due, they would have had no opportunity. . . . They were open and kept us apprised of the situation. They didn't try to rip us off."
Company officials couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
In 1995, Nova leased 8,000 square feet of space in the STAR complex at Belcher and Bryan Dairy roads. About 20 people worked at the company, which made custom-ordered machinery and parts for electronics companies and other manufacturers.
The STAR Center is home to 24 companies, providing a total of almost 1,400 full-time jobs and almost 400 part-time. Two companies already plan to expand to fill part of Nova's space. The center supports itself, Hall said, so county funds won't be spent because of Nova's unpaid bill.
Last year, Hall said, the company missed two rent payments, made one, then missed another. Officials there said they had cash-flow problems, but said they were working on it. Hall said Nova leaders made some rent payments, shut down an unprofitable part of its business and took other steps to keep going.
"Once you get a cash-flow problem, it's a serious problem unless you have a line of credit," Hall said. "They just didn't have a well to go to."
Hall said he was especially sorry to see the county's first tenant go.
"I was always particularly proud of Nova, because they were a small start-up company here, and for years they were a model of how a company ought to start up and function successfully."
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