Leading Question

By Lori Johnston July 31, 2010

In the last 18 months, Sarasota and Manatee county governments have committed to about $1.6 million in incentives to local companies promising to add new, high-wage jobs. About $426,000 could go to four companies that are moving across the county line. Oliphant Financial LLC and Dental Care Alliance, two

of the 12 Manatee incentive recipients, moved from Sarasota, promising to create 133 and 28 new jobs. Meanwhile, Sunovia Energy Technologies and moved to Sarasota from Manatee with pledges to create

up to 68 and 150 new jobs.

It’s understandable that each county would welcome a company that provides high-wage jobs and pays taxes, but do the incentive programs pit one county against the other? After all, the impact of a company doesn’t stop at the Sarasota-Manatee county line, and these dollars might be better used to attract a larger out-of-region company.

Economic development officials in both counties say it’s inevitable that counties are in competition, especially when they know that companies are set to expand or leases are coming up for renewal. When a company’s lease ends, it looks at nearby buildings, which could be over the county line, and shops for deals, says Eric Basinger, executive director of the Manatee Economic Development Council.

Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker says Manatee isn’t using its incentives just to coax companies just to move from Sarasota.

“We aren’t going to get caught up in paying for a relocation that doesn’t create new jobs,” he says.

Still, the payments have raised enough eyebrows that government staffs and economic development officials

in both counties are working to create guidelines by the fall to ensure that companies don’t abuse the incentive grants programs.

Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton says the competition is inevitable. “Sarasota and Manatee were always in a friendly competition. It’s shortsighted to categorically say it’s a bad thing,” he says. “It’s a healthy thing if our com-petition does not cause us to be less attractive as a region.”

Thaxton admits there’s the potential to cannibalize from funds that could be used to lure larger companies from another state. “If we’re doing these smaller ones, we’re going to miss the big one,” he says.

But helping out smaller, boutique firms feels like the right thing to do, Thaxton says, and if enough of those companies expand, it could have a similar impact of landing one larger business.

The ability to offer local, performance-based incentives can influence a company’s decision to hop the county line, but the building and site are the most important factors, says Karen Stewart, economic development manager for Manatee County.

Sunovia, which designs, develops and markets renewable energy and energy conservation products in the solar and LED lighting industries, was courted by Sarasota as well as Mississippi and Illinois as it grew out of its 5,500-square-foot south Manatee facility, says spokeswoman Kristen Watson.

Sunovia received half of a $100,000 incentive grant this year to move into an 18,000-square-foot facility in Centennial Commerce Center. The company, which has 20 employees, will receive up to $25,000 for each of the next two years as it fulfills its commitment to hire 68 employees.

“The incentives that Sarasota provided made a huge difference. They covered the cost of our move,” she says.

Filed under
Show Comments