County signs AmerLink settlement

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County attorney commends supervisors for taking fight to court

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — In signing the final settlement with bankrupt AmerLink, some Carroll County officials wanted to celebrate with confetti, but none sounded more excited than the county attorney.
AmerLink, in an economic development deal with Carroll, was supposed to create 200 jobs, but went down in bankruptcy after building a model home sales center and half a sawmill in the county.

Carroll sued in federal court in Wilson, N.C., to seek return of 32 acres of land and $600,000 in incentives that went to AmerLink. A deal was worked out with the bankruptcy trustee.
“Do we have any confetti?” Supervisors’ Chairman Tom Littrell asked at the outset of the settlement discussion at last Thursday’s county board meeting.
The agreement will allow the trustee to take possession of the sales center at the Southwest Virginia Farmers Market and attempt to lease it to a new tenant, according to information from the county. If the trustee can’t find a new tenant within 12 months, then the property goes back to the county.
The deal for the 32 acres in the Carroll County Industrial Park is similar — the trustee has about 21 months to market that property in order to pay $700,000 to Carroll.
County Attorney Jim Cornwell asked the supervisors to approve two motions ratifying and confirming the agreement on the sales center with AmerLink and on the industrial property with its sister company, Pro-Form Construction.
Supervisor Wes Hurst made both motions and both were approved unanimously.
County Administrator Gary Larrowe said the AmerLink nightmare had taken up about a third of his time in office, and that he’s looking forward to focusing time on positive projects.
Before the end of the meeting, Cornwell thanked the county board for pursuing the lawsuit against AmerLink to its conclusion.
Officials with AmerLink and Pro-Form probably never expected Carroll County to take the fight to court over the property and the incentives, Cornwell said. “I think they felt like it was done and the county wouldn’t spend the assets to go after it, and you did.”
The outcome represents something of a compromise.
“We didn’t quite get 100 percent, but, dang it, we got a pretty good deal,” he said.
There are advantages to the deal, such as Carroll might come out of it with new companies that create jobs, and without having to market the properties to do it.
“I really think it was this board that simply said, ‘No we’re not going away, No, we’re not going to be taken advantage of...” Cornwell said.
The sales center agreement already has approval of the bankruptcy court judge, and Cornwell expects approval on the industrial park property to come by the end of the month.
“These agreements accomplish several things for Carroll County,” Littrell said in a news release. “They end the litigation now pending in North Carolina and provide an opportunity for the bankruptcy trustee to market these properties and achieve some recovery for the many individuals injured by the insolvency of Amerlink.
“In return, if the trustee is successful, the county will profit by a new industry in the county and a new tenant on county property to promote economic development. If the trustee is unsuccessful, the properties will be returned to the county without further cost or expense.”
County officials shared appreciation all around, thanking Hurst, Cornwell, Larrowe and attorney Bill Gray for all their work on the settlement.
Littrell signed the settlement agreements at the end of the supervisors’ meeting Thursday night.