RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mitt Romney's business record, a central tenet to his campaign for the White House, is encapsulated in Bain Capital's investments in North Carolina.
Take Gocom Television, a regional station owner eyeing a bigger share of the market. In 1997, with Romney as chief executive at Bain, the firm put $50 million to $100 million into the Charlotte company. With the expansion, Gocom flourished and the Boston-based private equity firm earned a hefty profit for its investors, selling three years later for a threefold return.
Now consider Charlotte steelmaker GS Industries. Bain acquired the company in 1993 with a $24.5 million investment. Bain reaped $900,000 in initial annual fees and made a 100 percent profit even as GS Industries suffocated from a debt that eventually led to more than 2,000 job cuts and bankruptcy in 2001.
Together, the two Bain investments define the ongoing argument in the presidential campaign about the Republican candidates credentials and the role of private equity, a high-stakes, big-dollar and largely unfamiliar world to most voters.
At the Republican National Convention this week, Republicans will tout Romneys biography, call him a job creator and suggest his Bain years gave him the insight needed to resurrect the nations troubled economy.
Democrats argue the opposite. President Barack Obamas campaign depicts Romney as a corporate-buyout specialist who sought to make money regardless of whether the companies slashed costs, eliminated jobs or went bust.
For North Carolina companies and workers, both stories are familiar. Bain has played a significant role in the states business arena and left a mixed record, according to a News & Observer analysis of corporate records and news reports.
Over a 10-year period, the firm pumped huge sums into at least five companies based in the state and many other corporations with significant operations here. Bains investments in just the North Carolina-based companies totaled about $1 billion and affected roughly 5,000 employees in the state and thousands more elsewhere.
Among Bains North Carolina investments: Interpath Communications, a Morrisville technology company that laid off hundreds of workers and essentially dissolved two years after Bains investment; Sealy, the well-known mattress maker that relocated its headquarters from Ohio to the High Point area under Bains watch; and US LEC, a Charlotte telecommunications company that expanded its territory before being merged with another Bain company.
For some former Interpath employees in the Raleigh area, Bains emergence in the campaign dialogue revives strong feelings and bad memories.
Charley Bratton co-founded the Internet services company in 1993. But with Bain primed to purchase the company, he left. The (original) focus was to lift businesses across North Carolina ... but I dont think that had any driving force for Bain, he said.
The Romney campaign said the candidate left Bain in February 1999, before the Interpath deal was finalized in June 2000. But Romney remained listed as a managing partner in Bain documents until 2002. Even if Romney played no role, Bratton said he believes the Interpath deal speaks to the candidates business record.
Hes a vulture or has been as a business person, said Bratton, a registered Republican. His goal as a business person was to grow his wealth, grow wealth for his stockholders ... and he did that in a manner that was absolutely ruthless.