Editor’s Notebook

Photography by Rebecca Baxter By Susan Burns July 31, 2010

Our annual Top Companies issue is our most-requested issue all year long. Editor Hannah Wallace spends months tracking down, researching and ranking the Manatee and Sarasota companies that gross more than $20 million in annual revenues. The story provides a snapshot of how our largest companies are faring, and that’s valuable information for anyone who does business here or wants to.

This year’s ranking reflects the struggling local economy in 2009. Total top company revenues went from $14.7 billion the previous year to $14 billion this year. Payrolls have been shrinking as well, leading to 12 percent unemployment.

That’s why, on Aug. 24, Sarasota voters will see a question on their ballots asking if they want to grant property tax exemptions to new businesses and existing businesses that want to expand. The aim is to attract and retain companies that promise to create good jobs and expand our economy beyond tourism and construction. The initiative has won the support of a surprising coalition, from the business boosterish Argus Foundation to the slow-growth advocates at the Sierra Club, Citizens for Sensible Growth and the Council of Neighborhood Associations

Companies that apply for these exemptions must go through a screening process and be scored on the number and type of jobs and capital investment they will bring to Sarasota. The amount of the exemption—up to a 100 percent exemption on property taxes and personal tangible taxes for 10 years—will depend on how each company scores.

What will it cost us? Lost property taxes if a bunch of companies would have moved here without exemptions, and that’s impossible to predict. Otherwise, there should be no significant cost to taxpayers, and if the exemptions do attract and retain companies, we could see new capital investment, new jobs and workers who buy homes, pay taxes and shop in our stores.

Venice-based PGT’s director of finance Brad West says that in 2006, his company opened a facility in a county in North Carolina because it offered a 75 percent reduction in property taxes. “It worked for us. We needed a bigger building, and when a company moves it looks at all the economics,” he says. “Property taxes are money you could invest in jobs and machinery, so it’s a substantial savings.”

Ron Maloney, the new executive vice president at the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, says the companies they want to attract will not be big-box retailers with low overhead and cheap, unskilled labor. “This is just one more tool in the toolbox so we can compete,” he says.

This exemption shouldn’t cost us, and it may pay off. Vote yes on the Economic Development Ad Valorem (Property) Tax Exemptions.

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