Cobb granted about $1.3 million in local economic incentives to thyssenkrupp/BRED Inc. to build the tallest tower in the county near The Battery Atlanta and SunTrust Park. Courtesy of Cobb County
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Cobb debates $500,000 in business incentives ahead of Tuesday vote

Cobb County commissioners are expected to hold a vigorous debate on business incentives Tuesday ahead of a scheduled vote to cap fees for five new projects or expansions, including one for The Home Depot.

The value of the incentives comes out to more than $500,000 in construction permitting and business license fees the county will not collect. They do not include property tax abatements, which are given out by the development authority.

Commission Chairman Mike Boyce said he welcomed the debate, acknowledging that unanimous approval for the incentives is unlikely.

“It’s going to probably be a split vote,” Boyce said. “I love this conversation because it brings out a discussion not just for the board members but for the general public.”

Boyce, who supports the incentives, emphasized that the county could take back the money should the recipients fail to deliver on the promises of new jobs and investments spelled out in their contracts.

But at least one commissioner and some residents question whether the government is giving away too much for too little. The debate follows a tax hike passed by Cobb last year, as well as a backlash over public funding of SunTrust Park and the generous incentives offered by Georgia and other states that hoped to lure Amazon’s H2Q.

Last year, the commission approved incentives for Thyssenkrupp, a German elevator company, and Empire Distributors, a wholesale beverage distributor, totaling $1.5 million. Thyssenkrupp and Empire are expected to create about 600 and 500 jobs, respectively.

Four of the five companies that are up for consideration Tuesday are relocating within Cobb County or expanding existing office space. One is planning to build a three-story office building that it will rent out to other businesses.

“Will that second wave of companies also be given incentives?” East Cobb resident Tom Cheek wrote in an email. “Public comments by commissioners make me wonder if they understand that just because they CAN give these gifts, doesn’t mean they SHOULD.”

District 4 Commissioner Lisa Cupid questioned how the county was calculating the return on its investment during a work session Monday.

“If we keep saying we derive a benefit from these incentives, how do we keep running into the same problems with our budget?” she asked. “We’ve got to have something to show for it other than the rhetoric that it’s great for the county.”

Speaking after the meeting, Commissioner Bob Ott said he was supportive of all five proposed incentive packages. He said county staff calculated the benefit by looking at projected sales, ad valorem and property tax revenue, in addition to job creation. He suggested that the public was confusing county incentives—capping fees—with the much larger incentives given by the development authority in the form of tax abatements.

“The county really has never had this public discussion before about county incentives,” Ott said.

Several of the projects under consideration have also received tax abatements.

Carol Brown of Canton Road Neighbors, a neighborhood advocacy organization, said she wasn’t concerned about the county capping or waiving fees.

“I believe that’s a very typical practice local governments do to attract and retain business,” she said. “I don’t think it’s particularly controversial.”

The projects on Tuesday’s agenda are as follows:

Edison Chastain Office, LLC, is seeking incentives to build a three-story office building on Chastain Meadows Parkway in southeast Cobb. The company claims it will create more than 150 jobs. The value of county incentives would total $124,931 and county staff have projected a break-even date of 2022.

Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC, a construction firm, is applying for incentives for the renovation of its existing office on Circle 75 Parkway in the Cumberland area. The company says it will create 462 jobs. The value of the county incentives would total $90,798 and staff have projected a break-even date of 2023.

Floor & Decor has asked for incentives to relocate from Smyrna to Windy Ridge Parkway in East Cobb. It says it will create 420 jobs. The proposed county incentives total $38,750 and staff have projected a break-even date of 2024.

The Home Depot wants incentives to lease two existing office buildings on Interstate North Parkway in East Cobb. The company says it will create 700 jobs. The incentives are valued at $213,750 and staff have projected a break-even date of 2021.

BioIQ, a health technology company, has applied for incentives to expand its office on Windy Ridge Parkway. It has said it will create 500 jobs. The value of incentive package would be $85,830 and county staff have projected a break-even date of 2021.

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