You likely won’t hear commissioners argue about luring companies that bring jobs to Mecklenburg County. But if two recent votes are any indication, board members remain split on how – or if – the county should be involved in offering tax incentives.
That became clear last Tuesday when Peter Zeiler, the county’s new economic development director, asked the board to approve offering $98,000 in tax breaks over three years to TTI Floor Care N.A., an Ohio-based company planning to open a marketing and innovation center that will employ 200 in Charlotte. About 165 of those workers will be hired locally.
The firm makes vacuum cleaners, including the Hoover, Dirt Devil and Oreck brands. Zeiler said the company considered South Carolina, which has upped its incentives game and scored major victories over North Carolina in the past couple of years.
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Commissioners narrowly approved Zeiler’s request, by a 5-4 vote. They voted the same on giving $129,000 over three years to the Albemarle Corp., the Louisiana-based chemical company that plans to move its global headquarters to Charlotte.
Recently, the county has supercharged its economic development efforts by taking a proactive approach in recruiting companies that bring jobs for the local workforce. But commissioners still don’t see eye-to-eye on the role of incentives.
Since the county collects more in taxes, it doles out more in tax breaks than the city of Charlotte. For example, the city of Charlotte will offer TTI Floor Care about $56,000 in incentives over the next three years, compared with the county’s $98,000.
That, and other cost concerns, often prompt Republicans on the board to vote against incentives.
It’s a double-edged sword.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett
“We spend more money than the city of Charlotte when (the companies) get here because we have to provide schools, we have to provide parks, we have to provide a health department,” Commissioner Jim Puckett said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”
The Democrats typically endorse incentives, which some consider “part of the game” in economic development, Commissioner George Dunlap said last week.
But Democrat Vilma Leake broke the pattern last week when she sided with Republicans against offering tax breaks to TTI Floor Care and Albemarle. Her rationale: “They didn’t show me any (middle-level) jobs for the average citizen,” she said.
Average salaries for TTI Floor Care employees will be about $90,000. Albemarle employees, many of them senior-level executives, will make an average $187,000 a year.
“I cannot see us continuously putting our tax money to big firms (that) do not come here and hire some of our middle-management people,” Leake said.
Talk about the companies raised other issues. Though he voted to offer the incentives, Board Chair Trevor Fuller said he was disappointed firms fail to thank the county for its tax-break contributions. At a recent event welcoming a company to Charlotte, the county was snubbed but other organizations were praised, he said.
Fuller refused to say which company held the event.
“If you’re going to say thank you to people, you ought to include the county in the list,” Fuller said. “I don’t think it’s right the people of Mecklenburg County are not acknowledged for what they do.”