- June 8, 2021
The Sarasota County Commission today rejected a proposal that would have provided a little more than $1 million in state and local funds to a national roofing company considering moving its corporate headquarters to the area.
The decision, a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Carlyon Mason the lone approval, was over Project Mulligan, the code name for the effort led by the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. If approved, the company, unnamed in public documents, would have been eligible for more than $1.5 million in state and local subsidies in return for 180 jobs over six years. That includes $720,000 from Sarasota County.
The proposal sparked a wide debate about incentives, both before and at the meeting, and about when and where it’s appropriate to use public funds,. Specifically, the discussions focused on two issues: Would this company hire away people from other local companies, using public money to do it? And how would that impact the already strained workforce?
“This has been very divisive,” said County Commission Chair Alan Maio. “We have friends on every side of this issue, and it’s extremely uncomfortable.”
“It’s very strange that the Chamber of Commerce and multiple members of the chamber are on opposite sides,” said Commissioner Charles Hines. “What that tells me is something is wrong here.”
On one side is the company, the EDC, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and representatives from Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. Officials from those organizations and entities all emphasized that this company would be a headquarters only, and not hire roofers or people to work in the field. The company also agreed to submit to written clauses that would hold it to not hiring local people, said Rob Sitterley with Merit Advisors, a Gainesville, Texas-based consulting firm with offices in Tampa and Orlando that represents the unnamed roofing company.
“This should be a win for everybody,” said Sitterley in an interview with the Sarasota Observer. “This is what economic development is all about.”
EDC President and CEO Mark Huey declined to comment after the vote.
But the Sarasota-Manatee area building, contracting and roofing business community mobilized in opposition to the proposal. The concern from that side is public money shouldn’t be used to woo a business in an industry that already struggles to find employees.
More than 20 people spoke out against the proposal during the meeting. The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, a lobbying and trade organization, fought the proposal both as a group and individually.
Al Singleton, who has run Sarasota-based Alvin J. Singleton Roofing Contractors for 35 years, said approving the incentives would be a slap in the face.
“We didn’t get any economic incentives when the economy was down,” Singleton said at the meeting. “This wouldn’t be economic development. It would be economic movement.”