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County 5 Set To Give Away Another $ Million Plus for 35 Low Paying Jobs

On July 28, 2016, Love's opened a Travel Stop in Harrisonville, Missouri, right off the interstate. It added approximately 60 jobs according to its news release.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday morning, the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) met to once again determine if the unnamed travel center that no one will name (Love's or "the Company") would be recommended for a County taxpayer financed cash incentive totaling $1,325,000. Originally, on the County 5 July 21 agenda, it was pulled at the last minute after the company changed its job guarantee from 60 to 30, lowered the hourly wage and reduced its investment from $12mil to $10mil without a comparable reduction in the dollar amount of its incentive. The EDAB, without discounting for the reductions, voted unanimously to approve the $1,325,000 incentive. The 5 will consider its recommendation at 5:30 pm tonight.

Econ Dev Chief Gave His Version of the Background

Glenn Hunter      (file)

Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter kicked off the meeting. He explained that on July 15 the EDAB approved the incentive package for the Company. He did not explain that it was an emergency meeting.

He summarized the agreement, "The Company has reduced the capital investment from 12,000,000 to 10,000,000. They asked to reduce the number of jobs from 60 to 35."

This is half true: on July 21 the company had reduced the jobs to 30 and then upped it to 35.

He continued, "And they asked to set the hourly wage to $10.50 hr."

This is also half true: on July 21 the Company reduced the wage to $10 per hour and then raised it to $10.50. Love's original incentive request mentioned a $12 hr wage. This is not the lowest wage, it is the average hourly wage.

The Company also changed the project completion time from 12 to 24 months.

No facts were provided about the company. It had asked for confidentiality.

The Discussion

Chairman Sylvester "Bucky" Nash asked, "What happens if it falls below the number of jobs?"

Mr. Hunter answered, "It's adjusted on a proportionality basis.

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson asked, "Where did that $125,000 number come from?"

Mr. Hunter answered, "That was a request they made."

Mr. Johnson followed up, "Is that greater than, equal to, or less than what their property tax liability's gonna' be?"

Mr. Hunter answered, "That would actually be more than the property tax would be."

Mr. Johnson wanted to know why. "The last couple of proposals that have come before this board have been premised around the basis of property tax. Now, all of a sudden they are wantin' just a cash amount. I don't necessarily agree with that, because if the taxes are gonna' be less than $125,000, I would have a problem with that. I think the consistency and what we've been doin' should continue... why would we all of a sudden change to a lump-sum payment?"

Mr. Hunter said there are other revenues that are generated off of the project.

Board member Glenn Owens wasn't satisfied, "I questioned when this came up here before, but now I wonder how we get another agreement that changes everything they are going to do, but doesn't change anything we are going to do. I have a problem with that. It just doesn't make sense to me that they are going to cut the investment from 12 to 10 (million dollars) and cut the jobs almost in half and they're gonna' cut the hourly wage. I don't know why the amount that we're givin' em' is not going down? I don't understand. I don't quite get that."

Mr. Hunter answered, "We negotiated the best that we could do at this time."

Your reporter asked, "You said property tax and other. What's the other?"

Mr. Hunter answered, "That's sales tax."

Your reporter followed up, "What does that have to do with County property tax?"

Mr. Hunter answered, "It doesn't have anything to do with it. It's not factored in -- it's just a number."

Your reporter asked, "Did they explain to you how they came up with $125k? So far, nobody knows how they came up with 125."

Mr. Hunter answered," It's their "ask." ... We reviewed that and I'm satisfied with making the recommendation. That's what I am presenting to the board today."

Board member Stephen Douglas joined the conversation. He said the $125k should be reduced to $104K because of the $2 million decrease in the capital investment.

Assistant County Manager Scott Ward said that he thought compared to the Pilot Project this project was worth more because the land is not factored into this project.

Mr. Hunter whispered to Commissioner Nash that he believed the investment in the land will be $2.5 mil.

Mr. Ward said, "I do know where this has come in another county and they say it's been very good for their county." Mr. Ward did not share the name of the County. No one asked for clarification or the name of the county.

     Marc Vann

Long time Board member Marc Vann asked, "What changed?"

The Incentive is Rigged

Mr. Hunter explained:

Their concern from the person who was representing the company here who gave us all the previous numbers to go with was the possibility of franchised food jobs. There were franchised food jobs factored into here. They can't guarantee those. That's the reason they pulled it back down. Typically, an operation this size will run about 80 employees is what the projection is. To guarantee to be able to hold onto their incentive for their investment, they asked that these numbers be reduced? ... Their footprint is going from 11 acres to 20 acres. So it's a bigger footprint for an operation and it also has an additional retail component tied to it that exterior from the basic construction, which is controlled by them, but it's a different structure.

Mr. Owens asked, "I'm sorry. Is that not part of these numbers - that other component?"

Mr. Hunter answered, "No, they're basically saying -- their typical build out is about 80 employees when everything runs wide open."

Mr. Owens asked, "That other component is part of these numbers?"

Mr. Hunter added, "Oh yeah. You can see that here. They'll guarantee that."

It was not clear where "here" was. Where ever it was, it was not in the incentive agreement.

The Job Incentive is a No-Lose for Love's
Public is Guaranteed to Pay

Chairman Nash explained, "One thing with this company is they are being conservative. I think their initial investment is still the same, but on paper they're wantin' to be conservative to make sure they get 100%."

Mr. Nash continued, "You're basically askin' them to guarantee somethin'. They're guaranteein' 35, but the anticipation is still the 60 jobs. But if you're askin' for an absolute guarantee, they want to be able to say, 'OK, we absolutely guarantee -- this.' ... You have to understand, the revenue they project remains the same."

The County provided no revenue projections.

Your reporter asked, "If they don't get this incentive, would this company not make any money? They'll still make a profit without the incentive?"

Mr. Hunter responded, "I can't speak for the business. I would assume they would make some profit. I don't think they would build if they couldn't. If they don't get this incentive they may decide to go to another location."

Your reporter, "Or go here."

Mr. Hunter, "They could go here. We could roll the dice on that."


Looking through the Love's website and all its information about it's Travel Stops/Centers it is clear that a Loves Travel Center as planned for Ellisville cannot operate with 35 employees.

Like Pilot before them (they had a change of plans), if Loves wants to be in Ellisville, the first major available area on I-75 after the Georgia border, it doesn't seem like there are a lot of options.

Tonight, the County 5 is voting for a million dollar+ gift from the taxpayers of Columbia County.

In English, that's called free money.

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