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November 26, 2012

Emmett Dulaney: Echoing Bright Automotive: Part I

On Nov. 16, it was announced that Echo Automotive had selected the Flagship Enterprise Center to locate operations. An article appeared in The Herald Bulletin detailing plans to occupy the space Bright Automotive had “vacated” and “shuttered.” While all news can be considered good news, here is a really simple brainteaser: When did Echo Automotive come to town? Before you say “November,” a partial reverse chronology of some other dates should be considered:

On Oct. 19, the company launched its website (www.echoautomotive.com/) featuring a stock image of the Flagship Enterprise Center. Obviously, things were well enough in the works in October to make it something they wanted seen by visitors to their home page at that point in time.

Per the company’s 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: “In the second quarter of 2012 the Company advanced the landlord in Anderson, Indiana, $50,000 to cover the landlord’s costs for the purchase of certain building and improvements from the previous tenant. These funds are scheduled to be repaid to the Company by year end.” So not only does the FEC owe them $50,000 they need to cough up in the next month, but “second quarter” means that they had to be there by June.

On April 1, the CEO of Echo signed the first of two leases for space at the Flagship (a full three weeks before signing an employment agreement to serve as CEO).

On LinkedIn, the vice president of engineering for Echo and the vice president of sales and business development both list Anderson as their place of employment and March as when they started. They’ve been working in that vacated and shuttered space for eight months now, and I can only hope that someone kept the heat on. The former employer for both individuals mentioned was Bright Automotive and that is true of the chief technology officer, the vice president of systems integration and the vice president of systems architecture, as well.  Suddenly, with the same employees and the same location, the possibility surfaces that Echo Automotive has really been here for four years, just using the name Bright Automotive (which went out of business in February). According to promotional material, though, rather than creating a vehicle from scratch — which turned out to not be such a “bright” idea — Echo will convert existing vehicles to EV, and that is where the key difference between the two companies lies.

I would be a lot more excited about this were it not for two separate visits and tours of Bright that I took and saw the postal vehicle that they were working on converting to EV after recognizing the money was in fleets. If you’ll pardon the pun, it seems like we’ve been down this road before.

Why does any of this matter? Because the purpose of the FEC is to bet on companies that can help turn the local economy around. Anderson backed this concept once before and saw the company — at the first taste of success — announce that it would create manufacturing jobs in Michigan rather than here. We shouldn’t worry about that this time, though, since Echo’s filing with the SEC indicates that, from the start, plans for manufacturing are to outsource it to third parties and never create those jobs.

Columns from the Falls School of Business at Anderson University appear Tuesdays in The Herald Bulletin. This week’s columnist, Emmett Dulaney, teaches marketing and entrepreneurship.

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