Pearl River County building economic capacity to win Amazon’s new HQ is still a dream

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, October 25, 2017

By  Don Van de Wereken

As a past advocator and now a witness to the messy world of job creation and economic development, I’ve pretty much seen it all.   Countries, states, county, cities and other agencies offer an “open wallet” just to win over an auto parts factory, a chicken processing plant, chemical refinery, port warehouse etc.  It continues to amaze me the amount of income tax rebates, deferred property taxes, paid job training, and reduced sales tax adjustments offered, all in an effort to lure a Fortune 500 company to an area. Why do we do this and does it work? 

In my opinion, tax incentives and rebates for millionaires are nothing more than welfare for big business. But it’s a necessary evil to bring jobs home. Money attracts money.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I once found myself in the company of several wealthy businessmen. It was amazing how much these millionaires talk about business expansion, labor development and tax incentives to finance projects.

Every progressive U.S. city, county/parish within 1,000 miles is offering business incentives.   For example, Lake Charles, La. continues to add thousands of jobs due to the building of Cheniere Energy, Sasol Chemical, Magnolia and others, all in the export of LNG and chemical byproducts. This success came as a result of new fracking technology, but it was also due to the local government’s commitment to economic development. Former Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach told me. It hit home for him when his son and daughter-in-law had to relocate to another state to find a job. That meant he and his wife had a six hour drive to visit the grand children.  Now after 15 years of hard work, “Southern Business and Development Magazine” again named SW Louisiana Economic Development Alliance for the fifth year in row The Best Small Market of the Year. Prior, the Lake Charles area was losing population, but is now one of the fastest growing regions in the Southeast. 

The county needs an aggressive tax strategy that will provide a package of rebate incentives with the guideline set by the state.

This playbook will ultimately mean the county needs to increase property and sales taxes dedicated to supporting a full time economic development staff and a reserve business recruitment incentive fund to lure companies here.

Yes, I hate higher taxes, but we need to hire the right people and focus on the fundamentals.   

Beside tax rebate incentives, Pearl River County leaders should invest in sound infrastructure projects and programs that lure companies here, like better water and sewer treatment facilities, better roads, increased funding of local public schools, strong building code enforcement, real estate zoning, more public parks and continued support for community colleges with a focus on high tech machinery manufacturing training programs.

Training dozens of highly trained and skilled machinists and industrial computer specialists will do more to lure companies than building a large industrial park.

Instead, let the investor pick the location and let them spend their money building it. Let’s just help them identify the location and provide trained, skilled labor. 

Several years ago, I was at an economic conference in Atlanta where someone asked Andrew Young, the former mayor of the city, how the city transformed itself. He thought for a second and boasted that he and the city’s leadership raised taxes and built the biggest airport in the area; everything else fell into place.

The same is true here, just promising we are not going to raise taxes and reducing wasteful spending should not be the only plank on any political platform. Again, it’s about job creation.