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Columbia Cnty Econ Dev Incentives: Home-Grown, Mom-and-Pops, Small Business Need Not Apply

Left to right: Stephen Douglas, Glen Owens, Terry Dicks, Gus Rentz, Glenn Hunter, Bucky Nash, Jeff Simmons. Out of frame: Scott Ward, Wendell Johnson                                     (file: 2016)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – While the mainstream local print media thought yesterday's bitch-slap between Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter and long time Board member Stephen Douglas was of newsworthy significance, the real news at Wednesday's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) was that when it comes to home grown, mom and pops, and small business, the County's economic development incentive policies will not apply to them.


In 2010, before she was run out of town, Commissioner Jennifer Flynn warned the County Commission, "I want to caution you all to make sure we do this [create incentives] in a fair manner for all businesses..." Columbia County Economic Development, Making It Up as They Go Along

No one paid attention to Ms. Flynn.

As reported earlier, the Columbia County Economic Development Advisory Board has been working on an economic development incentive plan since 2011: After Giving Away Millions, Columbia Cnty Econ Dev Incentives May be Heading Into Prime Time (meeting date October 25, 2016)

Following the departure of Suwannee County's Alvin Jackson from the October 25  EDAB subcommittee meeting, the committee (Stephen Douglas, Glen Owens, Glenn Hunter, and Jeff Simmons) talked about Columbia County economic development incentives.

However, in May, well before the October 25 meeting, small and local businesses were effectively discounted when EDAB members Stephen Douglas and Glen Owens began working on a Columbia County incentive plan via email.

Mr. Hunter reviews the incentive plans.

The contribution of Economic Development Director Hunter to that plan is unknown.

Given both the St. Johns County and Suwannee County incentive plans for reference, the initial Douglas plan stripped away those county's low investment thresholds for financial investments, minimum wages, employment thresholds, and facility size.

Some of this was further rolled back during the October 25 EDAB subcommittee meeting.

EDAB member Owens has been against retail incentives all along, and has held true to his convictions, however, he did recognize the benefit to the tax base of large retail development.

Businessman Glenn Owens (file)

Mr. Owens elaborated, "You need it be something like the Hutton one to even be talked about. I voted against that and I'm still against it. Econ Development Bd Recommends $1,650,000 Retail Incentive for Another Shopping Mall

Mr. Hunter added, "I like that because of size. It's $45 million."

Mr. Owens followed up, "You don't want to be considering this [incentives] because somebody builds some little small business."

Economic Development Director Hunter agreed, "I'll be honest with ya'. We don't want to be runnin' around here workin' these small little businesses."

Mr. Owens said, "No sir. Absolutely."

Mr. Hunter: "I mean the word's out."

Mr. Owens: "That's right."

Mr. Hunter:  "But I'll tell you what. You're gonna get a better project when you get a big development."

Economic Development Director Hunter
His remarks aren't equal to the history of County econ dev

During the discussion about economic development incentives, Mr. Hunter stated, "From all I see and understand from Columbia County economic development; all that I've been hearing from years past and from my experience here is that this board is extremely interested in industry with high wages and jobs."

On March 7, 2012, the EDAB met. During that meeting, it deep sixed "higher-skill, higher-wage jobs" from its mission statement.

Columbia County's EDAB circa March 2012. EDAB appointments remained the same. The change was Econ Dev Dir Quillen quit after banging his head against the wall for two years, and Commissioner Ronald Williams was replaced when Commissioner Nash appointed himself.

County Attorney Joel Foreman has been working on the incentive issue for four years. He has done nothing to streamline or clarify the situation. He takes care of the County 5, developers, and bathtub beer brewers on an as-needed basis, flying by the seat of his pants as the issues come along.

Terry Dicks on Incentives:  "We want to be fair"

County Attorney Foreman spoke about economic incentive "disclaimers." He said about the proposed incentives, "These are guidelines. There is no guarantee; just because you come in and meet these you're not guaranteed this incentive."

Board member Dicks followed up, "I don't want to create confusion... I'm just trying to think through an existing business. They're sayin', 'Hey, I've been here 30 years; or I've paid taxes here 40 years.' Let's make sure that we do everything we can for our local people that are already here -- that have invested in our community. That they don't feel like we're running over them to bring in somebody new."

Mr. Hunter said, "That was a very strong topic of the committee when they met to let the local businesses believe and see that there is an opportunity for them to apply and there is a threshold that they are not totally excluded. It appears that if somebody comes in from out of town they are given a handout."

This is not true. The thresholds were raised and local and small businesses were affirmatively discriminated against.

Both Putnam and Suwannee counties have business investment and labor thresholds well below that proposed in Columbia County.

To qualify for incentive points in Columbia County the minimum investments are: a minimum of $2.5 million for industrial and $3 million for retail.

Mr. Dicks said, "We want to be fair to the existing business."

Your reporter asked, "To follow up on what Mr. Dicks said, to support local industry, $2.5 million: that's a lot of money. Mom and pops don't have that kind of money. Hunter Printing (the 32 year old business owned by Econ Dev Dir Hunter) is not going to run out and invest $3 million, but you might invest a half a million, and yet Hunter Printing would not qualify to be on any of the incentive packages for a local business. My question is how are local businesses supported in any incentive plan that the County is bringing forward?"

Com. Nash before he approved the Neely retail incentive in January.

County Chairman, self-appointed Chairman of the EDAB, and local businessman Sylvester "Bucky" Nash, answered, "I think two - two and a half million in capital investment in today's world... It's your business model -- what you want to do."

Mr. Nash continued, "As a businessman, I don't need the County: one, to be in my business. And I don't need them to go ask for a handout... When you get up to the bigger scale and bringing in 500 jobs, or 200 jobs, I believe that is the County helping me expand my business. That's what helps me make a decision to reinvest."

Your reporter followed up, "There is nothing in your plan that helps the home-grown guy. Is that OK?"

Mr. Dicks jumped in, "I didn't mean to bring up a bunch of stuff."

Mr. Nash added, "If you got everybody coming to us to expand their businesses, I don't think that's the American way."

Mr. Hunter said, "The capital investment starts at 3 million."

Mr. Dicks said that he didn't think incentives lent themselves as much to retail as they do to industrial.

Special Situations
Commissioner Nash Gets to What it is Really About

Commissioner Nash closed the conversation on economic development incentives, "People could come to the board and ask. If it's a big local business and they're going to add and do and be a long-term commitment, I think we'd consider it."


In the Land of the Columbia County 5, they still don't need rules.

The home-grown, mom-and-pops, and small business need not apply.

Your friends, neighbors, schoolmates, the people you sit next to in church, have raised the bar to keep you out.

When it comes to making deals, the Columbia County 5 and Columbia County's elected County Attorney have demonstrated that they want to deal with millionaires and billionaires, and their really good friends.

That probably isn't you.

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