Tech Company CEO Says $6 Million State Grant a 'Secondary Priority' | Off Message

Tech Company CEO Says $6 Million State Grant a 'Secondary Priority'


MTX's Frisco, Texas, office and staff in April 2021 - COURTESY OF MTX
  • Courtesy of MTX
  • MTX's Frisco, Texas, office and staff in April 2021
The cofounder and CEO of a Texas company that’s been approved for a $6 million state incentive to open an office in Waterbury said he would have chosen Vermont even without the promise of state money.

Das Nobel, whose company MTX Group has worked for several Vermont state agencies in the past few years, said he was drawn to the Green Mountain State because it’s close to Albany, N.Y., where he lived for many years, and it reminds him of Bangladesh, where he was born and raised until he was 15.

“The incentive is a secondary priority for us,” he said of the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive, or VEGI, which provides newly arrived companies grants if they meet targets for job creation or other investment. MTX was approved for the VEGI grant in July, though the money won’t be available until the company’s Waterbury office has met employment targets outlined as part of the grant.

Asked if he would have opened the Vermont site without the grant, Nobel said he would have, based on his desire to bring good jobs to a state that needs them.

“Absolutely,” he said Monday. “I made up my mind before.”

The VEGI program is aimed at promoting business growth that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. According to the program’s 2020 annual report, VEGI has paid companies $27 million in incentives since it started in 2007.

The state’s auditor of accounts, Doug Hoffer, regularly criticizes VEGI and its administrators, the Vermont Economic Progress Council, saying it’s impossible to show that a company wouldn’t have moved to Vermont or expanded in the state were it not for the grants.

In the case of MTX, Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said Monday that Nobel had clearly stated to Vermont officials that he was considering several Northeastern cities for the company’s new site.

“They represented to us that Rhode Island, New Hampshire and other states were in the running for this Northeast headquarters, or hub,” Goldstein said. A press release from MTX said the company chose Vermont after the VEGI grant was authorized.

MTX helps public agencies in 32 U.S. states set up programs such as disease transmission tracking and unemployment insurance claims services.

Nobel, who lives and works in Frisco, Texas, is a fast-moving entrepreneur with big ambitions — including a plan to buy the Dallas Cowboys someday, according to the Dallas Morning News. That paper also reported this summer that Dallas awarded MTX a 27-month, $295 million contract for services such as COVID-19 contact tracing, though it was later reduced to about $65 million. The New York Post reported in June 2020 that New York City had awarded MTX a $46 million no-bid contract for contact-tracing technology.

The Department for Children and Families and the Vermont Agency of Transportation both have used MTX tech, according to Nobel's wife and cofounder, Nipa Nobel. The state increased its use of MTX during the pandemic, enlisting the company to help the Department of Labor as it was swamped by its new and unforeseen job of funneling much more cash to Vermonters through its unemployment claims system.

MTX now employs 1,100 people around the country, Nipa said. But the pair expect rapid growth. In May, Das announced the opening of an Asia-Pacific base for the company in Australia, with the expectation that MTX will have 2,500 jobs in that country within 10 years.

The global activity is a far cry from what’s expected in Waterbury, where Das said he hopes to have 100 people within a year and 250 within five years. The promised salaries are high by Vermont standards — $85,000 to $185,000, Nipa said — and many of the jobs will be remote, though company officials have said those remote workers will need to reside somewhere in Vermont in order for MTX to qualify for the VEGI grant.

Bill Shepeluk, the Waterbury town manager, said that while the company’s presence won’t have much of an impact on town taxes, it’s a relief to have someone moving into the 18,000-square-foot space in Waterbury Center recently vacated by Keurig Dr Pepper.

“Occupied properties are more valuable than unoccupied properties,” said Shepeluk. “Having 100 to 250 jobs in Waterbury is a good thing.”

Das said he has long had a soft spot for Vermont, adding that his primary goal in opening the Waterbury base is to help the state by providing jobs with good salaries.

He'd like to capitalize on the state's natural beauty by creating a meeting of billionaires, something similar to the annual Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, that last month drew the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

Asked why MTX is taking the $6 million in state money if his primary goal is to help Vermont financially, Das said that aspect of the plan had been up to his leadership team.

“If it’s available, the team is going to explore that,” Das said. Nipa later emailed to say that MTX might have opened a facility in Vermont without the VEGI grant approval, but it wouldn’t have been as large as the one planned now.

Das added he hopes his family can buy a second home in the state.

“I want to have my family travel to Vermont on a regular basis and have vacations out there,” he said. “That’s Vermont to me.”

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