Proposed Incentives Plan for Corporate Headquarters Relocation Creates Dissension

Business

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY MAY 24, 2016

Business leaders in the state are hopeful one of the nation’s top roofing companies will move to the Gulf Coast. But since news broke that tax incentives would be offered inviting a firm into a market where rooftops are already big business, a political divide has erupted. The Sarasota County Commission today considers whether to offer the firm an incentives package to relocate here, and will face a choice between angering part of the politically powerful development industry or satisfying a hunger by state leaders to bring more corporations to Florida. “Certainly, having the headquarters of a national firm shines a very positive light on the community,” said Steve Queior, president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. “It creates more credibility and positive recognition than we could afford to buy in paid marketing and advertising.”

The name of the company considering a move has not been disclosed, but economic development officials identified it as “one of America’s largest roofing companies.” If the firm accepts a proposed incentives package, it would relocate headquarters here and bring 180 full-time jobs over five years with an average starting wage of $58,757. Commissioners will vote on contributing $216,000 toward a $1.08-million Qualified Targeted Industry tax refund incentive offered by the state. The board will also consider a $504,000 economic development incentive grant to assist in relocation expenses.

But roofers don’t appreciate tax dollars going toward a potential competitor. “This industry is already experiencing work shortages. To bring a company to compete with an already strained workforce doesn’t make sense,” said Gulf Coast Builders Exchange Executive Director Mary Dougherty-Slapp. She notes Sarasota County already serves as corporate home to roofers like Sutter Roofing and Roofing by Curry.

For state officials, though, there remains a long-standing desire to attract corporate headquarters to the Sunshine State. While not speaking directly to this deal, Sean Helton, Enterprise Florida vice president of communications, said incentives typically get directed toward industries like aerospace or light manufacturing, but can be offered for any type of company considering locating its headquarters here. “Corporate headquarters typically have very well-paying jobs,” Helton said. “It helps to diversify the economy, and it also sends a good message to other businesses around the country.” He noted companies do their own research into whether a quality workforce can be found.

After news broke of the incentives offer, Sarasota County Economic Development Coordinator Jeff Maultsby requested an extra week so he and the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County could address community concerns. Economic development leaders urged the firm in question to commit in writing that it would not recruit employees from companies already doing business here. The firm also confirmed it will only hire professional, corporate jobs at the headquarters, not compete for roofing labor. In its contract, the company also stipulated it would not compete with local companies for projects.

Queior feels those provisions should allay concern. “It shows a positive, good faith sign they are willing to be a good civic citizen,” he said. But Slapp said doubts remain in the building community. “The first thing they will do when they get here,” she suggested, “is put an announcement in the newspaper advertising: accounts receivable, ‘roofing experience preferred;’ human resources people, ‘roofing experience preferred;’ estimators, ‘roofing experience preferred.’ It’s not just roofing, but construction as a whole that will be affected.”

To economic development officials, the protectionist mindset seems small compared to an estimated $194-million direct economic impact over the next five years if the company makes the move, with an indirect impact for local businesses of $181 million—not to mention an ongoing combined direct and indirect impact of $100 million every year going forward.

The incentives deal is scheduled for a vote at a County Commission meeting at the Sarasota County Administration Center.

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