Voters heading to the polls June 18 to vote on a half-cent sales tax increase to help pay for indigent health care have another issue to consider.
A second item on the ballot is an issue to give authority to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners to provide incentives to incoming and existing businesses by eliminating property taxes for 10 years, if the business qualifies for the program on the ballot.
Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, said June 5 at a Holmes Beach town hall meeting that the measure is a job creator tool that attracts new business.
“The main charge of our organization is to recruit businesses here and encourage existing businesses to expand,” said Hillstrom. “In 2009, we recognized the need to be more aggressive and to diversify the economy.”
Hillstrom said Manatee County is the only county in the Tampa Bay region that does not offer the incentive.
“Economic development is highly competitive,” she said. “Businesses use a site selection consultant to scout out communities, and if you don’t have what they want, you don’t even get an opportunity to speak about how great your community is.”
She said there isn’t a way to determine how many businesses have passed on Manatee County after seeing the county doesn’t offer what other Florida counties do with the tax exemption.
The incentive is no freebie, she said.
“The businesses have to fall into a certain sector to qualify, they have to create a certain number of jobs, invest capital and have to offer a wage to its employees that are at or above average for the area,” said Hillstrom. “If they don’t do any of that, the incentive stops.”
Hillstrom said Manatee County is not only at a disadvantage in losing potential businesses, but that many children raised in the county don’t come back after college because they lack opportunities here.
“We want to send our kids off to college and have them come back,” she said. “We need to attract talent.”
Hillstrom said existing businesses that have stayed loyal to Manatee County shouldn’t be left out of the incentive program, if voters pass it.
“We also want to encourage expansion of existing businesses, and right now we don’t have a lot to offer them,” she said. “The other thing to keep in mind about existing industries is that they create the vast majority of new jobs.”
Hillstrom said the passage of the incentive program is one more tool in the toolbox to help her organization aggressively recruit businesses to Manatee County.
“We want to be on an even playing field with the counties around us,” she said. “We have a great product to sell here. There is momentum in this community and we are poised for greatness.”
Critics of the tax exemption call it corporate welfare and feel businesses should succeed or fail on their own, Hillstrom said.
“I say it’s an investment in our community and way of life,” she said. “The economic return for this incentive program far exceeds what you get back in ad valorem taxes.”