| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
SARASOTA COUNTY – When she reviewed her mail-in ballot, Nancy Morrison was disappointed in the lack of detail she saw in the final question, a referendum on whether the Sarasota County Commission should grant property tax exemptions to new businesses and expansions of existing businesses that create new full-time jobs.
“It gave no information whatsoever about what type of business they’re targeting,” said Morrison, who admitted that she wasn’t aware that voters are being asked to extend a 10-year window of an already existing exemption.
It’s the only Sarasota County referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot that leads off with the presidential election, several federal, state and local races and six state constitutional amendments.
Morrison is one of several residents who have emailed either the Herald-Tribune or local governments asking for information about the referendum, or asking cities to post information about the exemption on their web pages.
Sarasota County does have information in the exemption on its web page, which can be found at: https://bit.ly/34i9i1E.
Voters approved the provision, referred to as EDAVTE for short, in a referendum that appeared on the Aug. 24, 2010, ballot.
Currently, eight businesses receive exemptions for either relocation or expansion. PGT Innovations in Venice actually has two active exemptions, one it received in March 2012 for relocation and another one in January 2014 for expansion.
For the relocation exemption, the window and door manufacturer promised to create 400 jobs paying between $23,000 and $68,500. To date, PGT has attributed the creation of 1,232 jobs to it.
For the expansion exemption, PGT anticipated the creation of 220 jobs paying between $20,800 and $50,000 and has attributed the creation of 249 jobs to that.
Destin Wells, vice president for business development for the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, noted that to qualify, businesses must commit to at least $1 million in capital investment in its first two years and submit annual reports to document its efforts.
“That’s going to pertain to certain industry sectors more than others,” Wells said. Manufacturing activities are going to have to build a facility and buy equipment.
That explains why most of the other companies that have applied for the EDVATE incentive are in manufacturing – including Adams Bros. Cabinetry and King Plastic, both of which are based in North Port, and Tervis, which is considering a post COVID-19 pandemic move from its current headquarters off of Interstate 75 in Venice.
One notable exception, Wells said, is Codeware, an engineering software developer that contemplated moving its headquarters to Austin, Texas, before deciding to expand in Sarasota by constructing a $5.125 million, two-story building off of Sawyer Loop Road in Sarasota.
Codeware, which received its exemption in May 2018, had pledged to create 10 jobs paying $90,000 by the end of this year. So far, it has doubled that projection and created 20 jobs paying that rate.
Overall, businesses that qualify for the tax exemption have committed to create 956 jobs. According to annual report filings – bolstered significantly by PGT – so far they have created 1,649 jobs with an average annual wage of $46,467.44.
Wells noted that the ad valorem tax incentive program is one of four incentives the EDC can offer new and expanding businesses.
The other three are rapid permitting, impact and mobility fee mitigation, and an economic and development incentive fund based on job creation and high wages.
“It’s an incredibly valuable tool, Wells said, “There’s very few counties in the state that don’t have that form of program.
“If you lack a common and expected tool, you’re at a competitive disadvantage.”