Loris factory, touted as city’s economic savior 3 years ago, closes without warning

Coming in with the promise of 65 high-paying jobs and $3.1 million local economic investment, Accent Stainless Steel was the talk of Loris when it broke ground in 2015 on a new manufacturing facility.

But the Canadian company, which made brewing systems for the craft brewery industry, never employed more than a dozen people at the Loris plant and was acquired by another Canadian company, which shut the factory down Nov. 26 without prior warning, according to employees.

Ben Trant said he was one of nine employees at DME Brewing Solutions, the company that acquired Accent Stainless Steel last year, when the closure was announced the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Weeks later, employees haven’t gotten paid for the hours they worked during their final pay period or accumulated vacation time, and the company reversed a direct deposit into employees’ bank accounts from their previous pay period.

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Multiple employees showed The Sun News screenshots from their bank statements showing payroll depositing two weeks’ pay into their accounts Nov. 30 and then taking the money out of their accounts Dec. 7.

DME was ordered into receivership Nov. 26 by the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island based on an application by the Royal Bank of Canada, which claims the company owes it more than 18 million Canadian dollars.

Receivership is a formal insolvency procedure where an independent third party, known as a receiver, is appointed by the court to take control of a company’s assets to the benefit of its creditors.

DME’s receiver is Alvarez and Marsal, which filed a list Dec. 6 of more than 700 creditors who are owed a total of more than 27 million Canadian dollars, equivalent to about $20.2 million.

Trant said DME officials haven’t returned call from Loris employees since the closure, and they were told by a corporate liaison not to expect any future payment. The company did not immediately return a Sun News voicemail message.

On Alvarez and Marsal’s website detailing the DME receivership, it states under the Frequently Asked Questions section that employees are entitled to priority claim for unpaid wages and vacation pay, but it’s unclear whether that applies to the company’s American employees.

A representative with Alvarez and Marsal did not immediately respond to email and voicemail messages seeking further information.

Trant said Loris employees noticed clues the company might be struggling financially because they’d heard complaints from vendors about late payments, but they were always busy filling orders and had just hired a new employee that started the day the closure was announced.

Donnie Maples, another former DME employee, said lack of local management was always an issue as the company was constantly waiting for directions from headquarters in Canada.

Trant and Maples said they and other former employees have filed reports with the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation about the money they’re owed, but they’re not sure what options they have besides potentially filing a lawsuit.

Trant recalled how much public attention Accent Stainless Steel received when they announced they were opening a factory in Loris.

The investment was first mentioned in a 2014 news release posted by the state Department of Commerce that included quotes from then-Gov. Nikki Haley and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus lauding promise of 65 new, high-paying jobs.

The release also mentioned the approval of job development credits for the project.

Sandy Davis, president of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, which recruited Accent Stainless Steel to Loris, said they never paid the company for those credits because they never met their first requirement to hire 20 employees, which would have triggered an $80,000 payment.

Davis said the corporation has been structuring its deals during the past few years in a way that requires companies to provide the jobs and investment promised before receiving incentives.

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Accent Stainless Steel waited until September 2015 before breaking ground on the 50,000-square-foot Loris facility, which is now listed for sale at $3.2 million by Coldwell Banker Commercial.

David Stoudenmire, mayor of Loris at the time, said city officials had waived a fire impact fee, saving the company $30,000, according to a previous Sun News report.

“This is a big deal,” Lazarus said as the company began work on building the factory.

Davis said she only found out about the recent closure through employees, and she’s been unsuccessful in her attempts to contact DME officials.

The state Department of Employment of Workforce has requirements for employers to give employees 60 days notices prior to closings or mass layoffs, but those requirements generally only cover companies with 100 or more employees, according to the department’s website.

Even if DME was required to issue prior notification and didn’t, the department’s website states that employees’ only option for recourse would be to file a lawsuit.

The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation is helping the laid off workers find new jobs, but Davis said she’s unsure what to tell them about recouping their lost wages.

She added that another company, B&B Crane Rental Service, is moving into a facility near the now-abandoned DME factory, and she feels confident the building will be filled quickly.

Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.