Sarasota County Reevaluates Incentives, Ends Grants Program

Todays News

The age of economic incentive grants may have drawn to a close in Sarasota County.

Following political controversy around an offer to video-sharing platform Rumble, Sarasota County Commissioners voted to end its economic development incentive fund grants program altogether. The move comes almost 12 years after the authorization of the program at the height of the Great Recession. But throughout its history, the awarding of dollars in return for the generation of new jobs above the average wage has met criticism.

“My concern has always been we are picking winners and losers,” said County Commissioner Christian Ziegler. “I don’t really like that at all.”

The matter most recently drew attacks over a decision to award up to $825,000 to Rumble to relocate to Longboat Key. Marketed as an alternative to YouTube that promises not to censor content as freely, Rumble in recent weeks came under fire for allowing a platform to RT, a Russian state-run outlet frequently spreading propaganda to the English-speaking world. That comes as many U.S. Corporations refuse to do business with the nation following the invasion of Ukraine.

The grant program won’t end any continuing incentives contracts, but County Commissioner Nancy Detert noted that won’t matter with Rumble.

“While this is effective immediately and we said any existing contracts will stay in place, we have no contract with Rumble,” said County Commissioner Nancy Detert. “They never received a dime.”

Notably, the program for years attracted criticism, often from fiscal hawks angry at what they characterized as corporate welfare but also from business competitors who sometimes questioned the assistance provided to companies seeking grants while others operated without assistance.

Lisa Krouse, executive director of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, acknowledged now may be a time to examine what incentives programs serve the greatest need in the marketplace. While the grant program came about at a time of high unemployment, the country has seen record low unemployment more recently, with Florida boasting even lower joblessness rates. Last week, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced statewide unemployment dropped to 3.2%.

“When we look at businesses today, they are having serious challenges finding talent,” she said. “They are having challenges with supply chains, inflation, and as you know in numerous cases, having a desire to expand and not having the land to do so.”

The different climate appears to be prompting a shift in needs served by economic development officials.

Notably, Sarasota County will continue offering other forms of incentives not tied to the grant program. That includes a film industry rebate program, an ad valorem tax exemption program authorized by voters countywide, and land-use assistance done in conjection with county planners.

 

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