Sarasota County commissioners will be updated on the county’s economic incentive policies and process during their meeting Wednesday.
A memo from the Office of Business and Economic Development Director Jeff Maultsby is included in the Sept. 21 agenda and outlines an overview of the process by which the county grants economic subsidies, but does not disclose a specific topic for the discussion.
The county’s economic incentive program is managed by the county’s Office of Business and Economic Development and The Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County (EDC), a nonprofit corporation that has contracted with the county since 2005. The policy has been divisive since its inception in 2010, though proponents of the program maintain that providing incentives makes Sarasota County a more competitive investment.
The program has been criticized in the past after some businesses failed to uphold the provisions outlined in their agreements with the county. Both Tube Dude and Sanborn Studios failed to create the jobs promised when the county awarded them funds. The county paid the pair upfront, and later pursued repayment. The county has since amended its policy to avoid upfront incentive payments.
The county’s pursuit of repayment from Sanborn Studios was settled in late August after a judge ruled that the film company would have to repay $350,000 of the $650,000 incentive package.
Yet some remain skeptical regarding the use of tax money to encourage businesses to invest in Sarasota County.
Local political commentator Cathy Antunes said her concerns regarding the county’s incentive process rest on what she believes is the county's dedication to bigger, national and regional businesses as opposed to fostering local entrepreneurs with smaller, low-interest loans.
“Their focus is toward poaching and luring companies with money,” Antunes said. “They pay lip service to fostering local companies, but I don’t see that happening.”
However, according to Maultsby’s memo to county commissioners, the program has created 2,000 jobs in Sarasota county and facilitated the expansion or relocation of 35 businesses to Sarasota County.
“Since the inception of the Economic Development Incentive Program, EDC and County staffs have worked diligently to refine the program to best serve the business community, while protecting taxpayer dollars and other county resources,” Maultsby said in the memo.
The discussion also comes after the county’s contentious dealings regarding “Project Mulligan.” The project involved awarding North American Roofing $1.08 in incentives to relocate its headquarters to Sarasota County through a combination of county funds and funds from the state’s Qualified Local Income Tax.
Sarasota county commissioners denied the appropriation in late May.
Although “Project Mulligan” and the Sanborn Studios recent ruling precede the presentation, Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County President and CEO Mark Huey gave no indication that either subject would be discussed.
“I do not know what will be on the commissioners minds,” Huey said.