Given the news coming out of Rome, I know the question that will be asked of me, our elected officials, and everyone involved in economic development – why did Lowe’s choose Rome. Why not Dalton-Whitfield? It is a fair question, especially given all that we are doing to promote job growth and capital investment for our community. And in this case, the answer is somewhat simple.
Our community was never submitted for this project. The initial project requirements called for two provisions that we could not deliver. The site had to be approximately a minimum of 100 acres 200 acres in size and be ready to build on. Even with all the work that has been done to get sites ready for development, we do not have one that is 100 contiguous acres 200 or more acres and ready for construction.
The second requirement for a community to be considered required 100% Freeport tax exemption on inventory taxes. Although our community passed a referendum allowing for a Freeport exemption a couple of years ago, we have only reduced the percentage of inventory tax 20%. In other words we still tax inventory at 80%.
Economic Development in these economic times is as competitive as any atmosphere known to man. Competition between communities, states, and nations for jobs and capital investment is fierce. It makes the cola wars that I was a part of for many years look like a checkers match at the Cracker Barrel.
And until the economy improves (and improves drastically), the competition for the few projects that occur will remain tough. When asked about the Lowes project, Nancy Smith, chairwoman of the Development Authority of Floyd County thanked the citizens of her community. “Everybody needs to remember that one of the keys to this is the citizens who went to the polls in 2009 and voted for the 1 cent sales tax to buy this property.” Smith said the special purpose local option sales tax vote sent a big signal to Lowe’s executives that the community was serious about developing the new industrial park.
I would agree with the chairwoman. All communities that are serious about economic development must have citizens, elected officials, and professional economic developers working together and on the same page. Although the strategies may be different given the needs of the different jurisdictions, we have most of that formula in place.
Specifically, our citizens understood the importance of jobs and capital investment and voted to allow for phasing out the double tax on inventory. Our elected officials immediately lowered the rate by 20%. But that is where we stopped. We need to be 100% today. The growth coming from new investment would offset the loss in tax revenue from the current inventory tax. The jurisdiction that takes the biggest risk in completely eliminating the inventory tax will have a definitive advantage over those that do not.
All of our elected officials are working hard to provide the ingredients for successful economic development. Our county officials have aggressively supported the Joint Development Authority in acquiring the land at the Carbondale interchange and building a first-class business park. Before Carbondale, the community had no land that we could market to prospects. And land not ready for purchase and development is useless for driving economic development in a community.
All of our City elected leaders have reduced taxes or maintained low to non-existent property tax rates to be more competitive with other communities that we compete against. They have invested in quality of life projects that make a community more attractive to prospects looking to invest (even in these difficult economic and budgetary times).
Even though many people have worked very hard collaborating on improving our economic development competitiveness, we still have work to do. We can wait on budgets to improve and reduce the inventory tax while we continue to lose projects, we can criticize our elected officials who invest in the necessary economic development tools needed for recruiting jobs and capital investment, or we can continue come together and collaborate in those areas where we are uncompetitive and make improvements.
Rome and Floyd County deserves a round of applause for bringing jobs to Georgia and our region. They put in place the tools that enabled them to recruit a very large project that will be good for them, our region, and our state. We will congratulate them today, and go back to competing against them tomorrow. As Chairman Babb recently stated,” there is nothing like having a job.”