Celgard goes green — with taxpayer money

Celgard, LLC is going green, in more ways than one. The Charlotte-based company has received more than $52 million in taxpayer money from the federal and local governments.

The company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Polypore International, Inc., builds components of lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars. The grants were intended to help the company expand and build a battery separator research and manufacturing facility in the Cabarrus County business park.

Cabarrus County commissioners just gave the company three four-year grants of 85 percent of the ad valorem taxes and an upfront payment of $350,000 to offset land prices.

The Libertarian Party of Cabarrus County joined the Cabarrus Campaign For Liberty in opposing the economic development grants.

“Free enterprise should succeed or fail based on it’s own merits. Extending governmental privileges to certain companies at the expense of others reeks of corporate fascism,” said Thomas Hill, Cabarrus LP chair.

“Government should protect free enterprise from force and fraud instead of distorting the market with corporate welfare schemes. Reducing regulations and property tax rates will encourage businesses to invest in the county.”

Hill, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Congress in District 8, was one of several people who spoke against the county grants at a public hearing.

“I’m for free markets,” Hill told commissioners. “If there’s a role for government to play in the economy it’s to provide a level playing field.” He called taxpayer funded grants to selected companies immoral and unethical.

Lloyd Morris, Cabarrus Campaign For Liberty coordinator, believes the tax incentives should be taken off the table. “Celgard has already decided to locate here,” he said. “The county already has the assets and quality of life that attracts business investment.”

Morris also worries about treating all county businesses equally. “We should not offer Celgard anything we are not willing to share with every other business in this county. We should all be equal before the law.”

While both organizations support and applaud the efforts of pro business advocates in the county, the oppose using tax money and tax incentives to benefit certain corporations.

Celgard has already received a $49 million grant from the federal government and a $1.2 million grant from the city of Concord. The federal grant from the Department of Energy was awarded last year. The city grant came earlier this month.

The only commissioner to vote against the grant, Coy Privette, said that if it was profitable to build in the county, Celgard will build here regardless of incentives.

Celgard is expected to create more than 223 jobs that pay an average $28 an hour. Under the terms of the city grant, the company is supposed to make at least $57.1 million in taxable improvements to their plant. How or if that supposedly taxable money will be collected by local government is questionable, since the county grant gives Celgard a tax exemption.

Ironically, when President Obama visited the company’s Charlotte facility last week, he touted how government stimulus money like that received by the company has put people to work. But the Charlotte Observer reported that Celgard has not spent any of the $49 million grant it received last year.