Cobb approves changes to incentive plan

Cobb County on Tuesday night approved changes to its economic development incentive policies that are designed to make the county more competitive while providing more transparency to the process.

The rule changes allow the county, on a case-by-case basis, to offer incentives to companies with less of an economic benefit to the county; however, the companies still must meet requirements on the number of jobs created in the county. Prior to the rule changes, a company had to supply an economic impact of $500,000 and at least 25 jobs to receive incentives. Now, with a sliding scale plan in place, a company can offer less of an economic impact, but the minimum 25 jobs are still required.

The changes are necessary to keep Cobb competitive with other counties and cities when luring businesses and jobs to the county, Commission Chairman Tim Lee said. The changes to the county’s plan will remain in place for one year while Lee works on the county’s strategy plan.

The incentives offered by the county, such as capping development and licensing fees, can mean thousands of dollars in costs cut from the expenses of companies looking to move into or expand in the county. Larger incentives, including property tax abatements, are offered by the county’s development authority, but are not impacted by the new rules.

While county officials have touted the incentives, some residents have criticized the cost cuts for being too liberal and the process for not being transparent to the public.

Tuesday’s vote follows a few weeks of discussion after two commissioners balked at the original incentive changes backed by Chairman Lee. Commissioner JoAnn Birrell successfully argued for district commissioner to be able to review an incentive offer for a company relocating to his or her area. Previously the commission chairman would be the only commissioner involved in offering the incentives.

“I think it’s good to get another set of eyes to look at things and ensure we’re getting a good return on our investment,” said Birrell after the vote.

Also included in the revised policies was a requirement requested by Commissioner Bob Ott that the county’s economic development office provide at least an annual status report on all incentives in effect. The review will confirm that the businesses receiving the incentives are meeting the jobs and economic impact requirements required under the incentive plan.

"Besides the sliding scale, there is more transparency in the parts that the board of commissioners has an influence on," said Ott. "With the sliding scale, it is a better plan for the economy that we are currently in and addresses that better."

This year, the county has offered incentives to two companies, according to records from Michael Hughes, Cobb’s economic development director.

Osmotica Pharmaceuticals, which announced its relocation to Cobb in August, received a five-year tax savings on personal property of $564,539. The company brought 156 jobs to the county and an estimated $20 million capital investment.

Negotiations with another company, Project Joseph, could receive a $5,000 cap on building permit fees and business license fees, along with a 10-year real and personal property tax savings of about $609,000. The company could bring 700 jobs to the county and make a $26 million capital investment.