07/15/12 — Jinnette as a business recruiter? Maybe, maybe not

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Jinnette as a business recruiter? Maybe, maybe not

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 15, 2012 1:50 AM

It's a familiar refrain printed on each of Henry Jinnette's fliers: "The only candidate with experience bringing new business to Goldsboro."

On handbills he says he has passed out to city employees and at churches there is a list of all of the businesses in Goldsboro he says he is responsible for bringing and the list is impressive.

Woods Aviation, Uncle Yammy's Rib Shack, Carlie C's IGA, IHOP, Popeyes and East Coast Wings all chose Goldsboro due to Jinnette, according to the flier, but it seems that the extent to which Jinnette played a part in the business recruitment is widely overstated and in some cases nonexistent.

Jinnette, 71, runs his own company providing financing and capital funds for businesses and real estate development, so he says he is constantly contacting businesses across Eastern North Carolina.

Through those encounters, Jinnette claims to have brought six businesses to Goldsboro, but while one business did confirm he steered them to Wayne County, representatives from others said he had nothing to do with it.

On his handbill, Jinnette claims that he brought Woodson Aviation to Goldsboro, but the name of the company is actually Woods Aviation. Now based at the Wayne Executive Jetport, Jeff Jennings, president of Wayne Aviation, said the company was in Smithfield and running out of space in the year 2000.

Jinnette, who said at the time he was attempting to acquire Woods as a client, suggested the company relocate to Goldsboro.

"I said 'They can fit you in at Goldsboro airport,'" Jinnette said. "And if I hadn't been there, they would have never known about it."

Jennings echoed Jinnette's sentiments.

"Jinnette knows those folks and he was a big part of them making their decision to move to Wayne County," Jennings said.

But the other claims Jinnette makes aren't nearly as clear-cut, as it seems Jinnette is taking credit for simply mentioning Goldsboro to managers and owners while dining at restaurants.

"A lot of times the man I talk to -- they have no authority so they pass it off to the home office," Jinnette explained. "I just mention Goldsboro. It's no different than anyone else doing it -- I just say 'Hey bring us one over to Goldsboro.'"

Still, Jinnette insists that he is the reason the businesses are here -- sort of.

"If I hadn't said it they wouldn't be here," Jinnette said, before adding that the businesses may have come on their own eventually.

As far as Popeyes is concerned, Jinnette said he had been talking with restaurant managers with the company for three or four years, eventually talking to a man in Fayetteville.

But Jerry Niswonger, vice president of operations of Popeyes development entity, said he didn't recall Jinnette being a part of that process.

"I don't even know who that is," Niswonger said. "I don't recall that name."

A local property owner approached the company about a year ago and the company looked at it and then came back to make the decision in November 2011, he said.

Niswonger said customers who ask for new locations are welcome, but generally don't factor into franchise openings.

"I spent 11 years with Bojangles," he said. "I was getting emails since the early 1990s and 2000s from customers saying that they wanted Bojangles in northeast (North Carolina). I don't think that contributes to a location being there."

David Smith, the vice president of Golden Cakes, the California-based company that handles IHOP locations and development, was adamant that Jinnette had not contributed to IHOP coming to Goldsboro, saying Jinnette's claims have "zero validity." Smith said that he had personally handled the location selection for Goldsboro.

"I drove to Goldsboro and that's the one we picked," Smith said from California, where the corporate office is located. "A broker found the sites and nobody there helped us. There couldn't be any less validity to that claim."

Jinnette said he had been in talks with IHOP for two years and spoke with someone at the Greenville location and someone from the corporate offices before claiming he spoke to the regional manager in Raleigh.

In the case of East Coast Wings, Jinnette claims to have spoken with one of the owners in January when he was dining at the Greenville location. He said he returned a couple of weeks later and learned that the franchise was due to open up on Berkeley Boulevard as early as May.

"I feel like because I was there, they're now in Goldsboro," he said. "If I hadn't talked to the owner, they wouldn't have been here. He may have already had it in the back of his mind and I came by and encouraged him."

Seth Lucas, one of the owners of East Coast, said Jinnette's claim had zero validity and was "completely untrue."

"I remember hearing about it," Lucas said, noting that he believes his brother, co-owner of East Coast, mentioned Jinnette's suggestion. "But I could mention it a thousand times 'You should go to this place.' We were already looking. He didn't help with the location."

In fact, it seems the journey toward opening up a Goldsboro location had begun well before Jinnette had his first wing in January.

"We were always looking at Goldsboro," Lucas said. "Ever since we opened up in Kinston in 2010."

Both locations of Uncle Yammy's Rib Shack have closed in recent years and officials there could not be reached. Calls to the corporate office of Carlie C's were not returned, but Jinnette said he has known Carlie McClain for years and told him about the vacancy where Winn-Dixie was once located.

"And three months later the lights were on," he said. "I've been to Carlie C's occasionally and talk to people there and they are so glad because they've got a job."

As far as his campaign literature is concerned, Jinnette refuses to back down on the rhetoric, regardless of the questions about its validity.

"It may be misleading, but it's the truth," he said.