State Treasurer Curt Meier, who last week was one of five state officials on the State Loan and Investment Board to rope in Atlas Carbon on a $15 million loan default ruling, is scheduling a visit to Gillette, Wyoming, to kick the tires on the coal filtration business.
The state’s top budget executive said that he could jet up to Gillette as early as Thursday if his schedule permits.
He wants a firsthand look at what Atlas Carbon did with the state’s loan money and get a jump on work to review the accounting books to see if the state’s investment is salvageable or whether the business can downsize with a more realistic business plan.
“These guys need to get their house in order,” Meier told Cowboy State Daily.
Atlas Carbon’s business strategy is to take coal from mines in the Powder River Basin and make activated carbon for filters needed to strip contaminants from water and air.
“It’s in a discovery phase, and we’re trying to determine what inventory these folks have,” Meier said about taking a closer look.
It’s not uncommon for the state to go after companies that have defaulted on economic development loans, such as what happened with Atlas Carbon on Feb. 1.
Meier cited Hawkins & Powers Aviation in Greybull, Wyoming, a former aerial firefighting firm that sold off some of its planes to pay off creditors before the Great Recession traumatized the nation back in late 2007 to mid-2009.
“You can’t fly assets away,” said Meier, who recalled that some homes held by principals of the company were sold in Alaska to help recover the state’s investment.
In recent years, SLIB nearly got stung on a multimillion-dollar loan to pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturer Cody Laboratories, based in Cody, that got caught up in a price-fixing scheme involving antipsychotic drug medication by its parent firm in the East.
Cody Labs wanted to build a facility at an industrial park in north Cody, but halted construction on the project and never finalized a $23 million loan approved by the SLIB.
What’s the land worth?
Meier said that plans also are in the works to get an updated appraisal of the Atlas Carbon property to compare against one from a few years ago to see whether the real estate value is holding up.
This economic exercise is part of the state’s effort to ensure that it recovers any money if things grow worse, or if the company stops functioning as an ongoing concern, he said.
Atlas Carbon made two quarters worth of payments on the loan from 2018, but had missed most recently a quarter of payments plus part of another quarter, Meier said.
“It’s a substantial amount of money that they owe,” he said.
The Gillette-based company had tried to line up financing to expand in Wyoming’s coal heartland with state and private equity money and had pinned its hopes on such a strategy by renegotiating the terms of the outstanding $14.9 million loan with SLIB, Meier said.
Atlas Carbon CEO Reza Hashampour told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that he’s confident that his company can successfully negotiate with the state to lift the default ruling and move forward with plans to expand his operation in Gillette.
The company had plans on the drawing board to add a second manufacturing facility at a cost of $23 million on its Gillette land that could churn out 23 million pounds of activated carbon, Hashampour said.
Hashampour said that the expansion was dependent on another cash infusion from the state and private equity backers.
One such investor in the company, Harold Callais II, managing partner and chief investment officer of Callais Capital Management LLC in Thibodaux, Louisiana, told the SLIB members last week that the financial performance at Atlas Carbon has improved, but that some of the overhang in uncertainty with the $15 million loan needs to be cleared up.
“We’ll have a good handle on everything in a matter of days,” he said. “By this time next week, we’ll have the appraisal, and see if they can get their investors in Louisiana to make us whole. We’ll see if this happens.”
Meier said that he believes Hashampour needs to set his sights lower, adding that, “They can’t move at that pace.”
“My gut tells me that there are a lot of resources in Louisiana and that they need to pivot over to a different product line,” he said. “The company still needs maybe $5 million to $10 million to be able to build that plant and service debt on this loan.”
Visit Is Welcome
Hashampour told Cowboy State Daily that he welcomes Meier’s visit to the plant in Gillette.
“The treasurer has visited us dozens of times. It’s nothing new for us,” Hashampour said. “We will have people at the plant to receive him,” he said.
Hashampour, who won’t be available to greet Meier when he arrives, said his business continues to work with potential investors to cure the default with the state.
“We are going to take care of this so that we can continue to grow the company. We are shipping product, and we will continue to deliver product," he said. “We’ve got a great thing.”
The state loan and investment board is made up of Wyoming’s top five elected officials: Gov. Mark Gordon, Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, State Auditor Kristi Racines and Meier.
Pat Maio can be reached at email@example.com.