Incentives that lure companies to locate or expand here are not simply “nice to have” but rather “a must have,” attendees at a Monday Cobb Chamber of Commerce breakfast were told.
Betty McIntosh, managing director with Cushman & Wakefield, a firm that specializes in company expansions and relocations, spoke of a recent $70 million project that hinged on a $2.5 million property tax abatement.
“It’s happening with every project,” McIntosh said. “(Corporate) boards are expecting incentives.”
McIntosh said she couldn’t begin to repeat how many times the governing board of Porsche “pushed back” on a deal to locate its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta last year.
“Their board said, ‘OK, that’s very interesting. We are glad you got us all this information. However, we’d like to have a little more,’” McIntosh said.
In such cases, McIntosh said incentives make the difference. “You have to be prudent with it. It’s an investment in your future, and you try to do it in the right way, be responsible, but you have to sit down and talk to the companies about it because it’s just a matter of life now,” she said.
Many times it means the difference between a firm adding 25 jobs or 100. “If they get upfront cash and lower their operating costs, that helps them,” she said. “They put that money directly back into that business.”
Another panelist, Gretchen Corbin, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said after the talk Monday that the majority of the projects she deals with do not receive incentives.
“But those that do, we always make sure we’re looking at the need, we’re looking at the financial stability of the company, and we are looking at what the state and communities can provide as a team to make sure this is appropriate,” Corbin said.
Corbin made a distinction between discretionary incentives – those given to one company but not to another – and statutory incentives, such as job tax credits, investment tax credits, and training. Statutory incentives make up the majority of the monetary goodies her office hands out to companies, she said.
Corbin praised County Chairman Tim Lee’s signature economic development program – Cobb’s Competitive EDGE.
“From the state’s perspective to know that a community is working for a good year and a half now, and we know that you are working weekly, working monthly as a group, coming together, deciding what is most important for the community, what are the areas you are going to target, how are we going to develop our workforce for the future – this is very important to the state,” Corbin said.
She said developing a plan is exciting, but the key is following through and keeping the momentum going.
Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, among those in the audience, said sometimes the incentives could be something as simple as having a better education or providing job credits or job training through some of the resources and partnerships within the community.
“It doesn’t always have to do with money,” Mathews said. “(Attorney General) Sam Olens was one of the very first people who ever said it in a way that I understood, and that is, ‘look, we have something that is very special in Cobb County, and that should provide a pretty good incentive.’” Another attendee, Barbara Hickey of Mableton, founder of The Etiquette School of Atlanta, said she came away from the talk encouraged.
“I’m all about jobs and quality of life,” Hickey said. “So if they’re going to work hard 24 hours a day to bring jobs to Georgia, then our quality of life is going to improve for so many of our citizens, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? We all want a great quality of life.”