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Company praised by Rick Scott hasn’t lived up to promises

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A company Gov. Rick Scott was praising more than a year ago for creating jobs is now delinquent in its property taxes and has never met its hiring goals.

The Fort Myers News-Press reported Sunday that Altair Training Solutions was supposed to be a multi-million dollar enterprise with facilities in Hendry and Collier counties where it would offer training for law enforcement and military combat personnel.

Altair’s owners, Michelle and Brian Jones, said they would bring 150 jobs, with an average annual salary of more than $62,000, to Hendry County. Back in May 2015, Scott himself visited a company location in Immokalee to highlight the job growth promised by the company.

The newspaper reported the state and county overlooked signs that the company was little more than a pipe dream. They also overlooked the owners’ troubling financial history and that they had no secured contracts necessary to meet $4.5 million in loan obligations.

The Joneses’ short history in Southwest Florida is mired by lawsuits, liens, judgments, several defunct businesses, foreclosures and a bankruptcy. Brian Jones’ military career was embellished in published reports, marketing materials and even by state and local officials, inferring experience in special operations that he lacked.

Altair, which turned to the state and county for incentives, brings in $275,000 a year in revenue and has 20 employees. The newspaper reported that lenders had foreclosed on a $3.7 million property purchased by the company in Hendry County and that the state terminated Altair from a tax incentive program in late 2015.

If Altair met certain goals it was supposed to get refunds from the state for money it paid in income tax, sales tax, property taxes and workers’ compensation insurance premiums. In all, Altair could have qualified for $806,000 in refund payments from the state.

But the Joneses didn’t meet hiring goals and never received tax refunds from the state program, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Michelle Jones paints a different picture of what happened with the state. She said Altair voluntarily left the program because it realized it couldn’t meet the hiring goals

“Not everything goes according to plan,” Michelle Jones told the News-Press.

The Joneses thought they would need employees, but the organizations that use the property for tactical training “bring their own personnel,” she said. “We shifted the business plan a bit. We didn’t want to be in the program.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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