Before Robinhood announced plans last month to expand into Charlotte, county officials considered offering the company financial incentives for the deal, according to emails Axios Charlotte obtained through a public records request.
Why it matters: Incentives are taxpayer money, and taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being used.
“While we initially discussed that pursuing county incentives would be challenging given the timeframe, Peter and Sha would like the opportunity to learn more to see if there was an opportunity,” Fran West, Charlotte’s assistant economic development director, said in a Feb. 9 email to Robinhood officials.
Flashback: Robinhood is the fintech company that made global headlines over the Gamestop short squeeze earlier this year. In exchange for creating 389 new jobs in Uptown, Robinhood will get nearly $4 million in incentives from the state over 12 years. The city of Charlotte is offering another $157,000.
A standard grant from the county for this type of project would’ve been $98,000 over three years, says Mecklenburg County economic development director Peter Zeiler. Ultimately, though, the county didn’t formally offer an incentives package to Robinhood, which officials gave the codename “Project Ace.”
“They came with a very short timeframe that we just weren’t able to meet,” Zeiler tells me.
A few other key details made the Robinhood deal unusual, correspondence from Mecklenburg County shows:
- City councilman Tariq Bokhari, founder of Carolina Fintech Hub, participated in meetings with the company and county officials. Normally, Zeiler says, elected leaders are not involved in economic recruitment. Bokhari’s involvement was unusual but not inappropriate, he adds.
- The deal was “exceptionally fast,” Zeiler says. Robinhood officials had a call with the county about possible incentives February 16; Robinhood made its announcement March 30.
The plan is to open the Charlotte office in September, Robinhood has said. It’ll be at Legacy Union.
Zoom out: As WBTV recently reported, the city of Charlotte has a pattern of keeping records about economic development deals and incentives hidden from the public.
The city did not respond to our request for public records on the Robinhood deal.