By Jeff Vanderbeck
No one could have predicted the turmoil in the Middle East affecting Eastern Kentucky.
The EnerBlu project was an all eggs into one basket plan that now has a slim chance of happening. All the signs were there for the project to come to fruition. Cutting-edge technology, approval from officials, visits from foreign investors and contracts negotiated for product.
There was a training facility built in Lexington, people were hired and company officials invested millions of dollars of their own money for the project, while moving their families to Lexington.
As recently as mid-January, a company official came to the area to explain some hurdles they were experiencing but reaffirmed their commitment to the project. There was one small technicality — the $350 million needed to build the facility large enough to accommodate their production needs.
I was in support of this project all the way because of the factors and the behind-the-scenes information that I was provided.
International investors were waiting for the large bank, SoftBank, to put their capital in. The partially Saudi-backed SoftBank was all in until the Saudis began to pull their assets out of SoftBank, translating to a loss of billions for the bank. That forced Softbank to pull back their U.S. investments.
This all happened after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
EnerBlu cited “geopolitical” issues as for their pullout. It’s no big secret that the Saudis are in the middle of the controversy over the murder of the journalist. SoftBank allegedly is not happy with the alleged involvement and apparently shunned the Saudi government, which prompted the Saudis to pull their assets from the bank, while other investors followed. And so Eastern Kentucky’s hopes of an environmentally-friendly energy solution is now on-hold or gone. The state, the city and even EnerBlu could not have seen this coming.
With the initial announcement, the city and state were able to work together to make major improvements to the site, making it project-ready for other companies. An Abandoned Mine Lands grant for the project may now be used for another project. Without the EnerBlu announcement, the city may not have that grant money. Time was lost but infrastructure was gained.
Chuck Sexton with OneEast Kentucky said that his group, upon hearing of the news, has been in contact with companies that were turned away and said there is more opportunity for him to recruit companies that can produce 20-100 jobs.
Sexton will be looking for companies like SilverLiner to present to the city for approval soon.
This is a setback and an opportunity. The park is now more suitable for business than it has ever been, and a diversification of industry will not have the region rely on one industry like its relied-on coal over the years.
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