Looking for a federal rescue

Empowerment Zone woes continue

The first company to receive a loan through the Atlanta Empowerment Zone's Business Development Fund needs another $650,000 to help it stay afloat.

Courtney Pollard Jr., chief executive officer of Light & Energy Management Co. Inc., which is partly owned by baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, says the doors are still open — for now. Calls to LEM itself, however, are not being answered.

To date, the bang for the buck of the Business Development Fund has been underwhelming at best. More than $8 million has been loaned out and only a handful of jobs have been created. The AEZ's Business Development Fund program was set up to make hefty loans to businesses to create jobs in the city's depressed areas, but only three loans have been made in the program's four years in existence. One of the companies employs only five people, another still hasn't moved into its Empowerment Zone building and probably won't until some time next year, and LEM is in danger of going under.

Pollard's company is asking the Atlanta Empowerment Zone Corporation for a $650,000 grant. The company expects to hear something any day now, Pollard says. AEZ interim director Ron Diamond could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

There is work backlogged that the company can start on if it gets the grant, Pollard says. "It's a grim situation without it," he admits.

A city official familiar with the loan says he doesn't expect LEM's request to be granted. "I know of no fast federal money," the official says. "Taxpayers don't want fast."

Light & Energy Management hasn't had the best of luck since it moved into the Empowerment Zone. It took 18 months to get through the AEZ's Business Development Fund loan process, completed in November 1999, and during that time, the company incurred $103,011.72 in legal fees. Payments for the legal fees wound up coming out of the loan.

Light & Energy Management also discovered that one of its founders twice embezzled money from the company, and while it started off with plenty of work, a number of its jobs, including two with the city of Atlanta, were suspended.

At its most healthy, LEM employed 24 Empowerment Zone-area residents. The company recently ended its last job, Pollard says.??