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Economic Development: Let the good times flow

By Staff | Dec 9, 2021

The city of Cape Coral is gearing up to become a major player in Southeast Florida’s economic development arena.

Tagged with a new water wonderland catch phrase — Flowing with Possibilities — the city is looking to invite businesses to “hop on board” and invest in the city, which has culled both Business Insider’s No. 14 spot for Fastest Growing City in America and a top 50 berth among CEO World Magazine’s Best Cities for Starting a Business.

As one of Cape Coral’s oldest businesses — we’re marking our 60th anniversary here in the Cape this month — and as one that survived the Great Recession at the epicenter of the real estate crash, we’re unapologetically pro-business as it pertains to smart economic development. That’s new investment, new money and new jobs.

We always have been.

So let us tout City Manager Rob Hernandez’s Economic & Business Development Program plan “to achieve an economically balanced community that is recognized for an exceptional quality of life for its residents, businesses and visitors by attracting, growing and retaining businesses and commercial development, and by expanding high-wage employment opportunities within the city.”

What are the goals of that policy statement?

The city intends to:

* “Promote the expansion of warehouse, light industrial, supply chain and office development” to generate significantly more revenue and diversify the city’s economic base;

* Extend or expand public utilities in the South Cape, Pine Island Road west of Chiquita Boulevard, Northeast 24th Avenue, Corbett Road and Burnt Store Road “as a key to leveraging more commercial and industrial development in the future;”

n Maintain the city’s major commercial corridors to support commercial development, especially along Pine Island Road, Burnt Store Road, Pondella Road, Corbett Road and Northeast 24th Avenue;

* Have the city’s Office of Economic and Business Development continue to provide liaison services to developers and businesses going through the permitting process;

And the big one —

* Have the City Manager’s Office lead efforts to “overhaul the economic incentives program to boost investments across the city.”

A new ordinance to that end is on the Cape Coral City Council agenda for Wednesday.

As tendered, the ordinance proposes major changes to how the city will “incentivize” both business and economic development in the Cape by boosting cash incentives while opening the doors to other options.

The cash incentives, to be funded from local business taxes and “investment earnings,” would allow the city manager to award up to $100,000 for eligible initiatives. The budget is set at $2,534,600.

Other programs tendered include a local job creation program to promote the creation of new jobs paying at or above the Lee County average of $44,486 per year, or about $21.39 per hour, with incentive grants set at $3,000 per qualifying job created; an industry tax refund for qualified targeted industries that pay an average annual wage of at least $51,159 that the city hopes to woo; business infrastructure grants for targeted industries; tax rebates similar to those already in place within the boundaries of the South Cape Redevelopment Agency; and property tax breaks and zero interest forgiveable loans through a new CapeCollaborates Small Business Partnership program, which would have its own advisory board made up of members of the city’s business community.

It’s a far-reaching plan with lots of moving parts, including an oversight and monitoring component to include performance metrics.

We believe that latter component is key as are two other elements: ongoing Council review with retained — and exercised — veto powers, and clear-as-glass transparency.

The challenge with incentive programs is that sometimes they can be little more than a rewards program through which businesses and existing business expansions that are predicated on rooftops get tax dollars for, well, executing their business plans.

For example? The cost-of-doing-business hiring of the additional staff needed to handle contracts, customers and clients during a boom such as the Cape is now experiencing.

Or handing a $500,000 contribution to Comcast toward its $14 million expansion project to boost internet services in the north Cape. The national service provider, which is seeing a year of burgeoning profits, says it is happy to have “partnered” with the city on the project.

We are sure that they are.

A city emphasis on economic development with appropriate incentives for targeted industries and job growth?

Sure.

But the problem with incentives is figuring out who really is incentivized by them — i.e. whether the incentive really is a deal maker in the first place.

If not, then what you have is not an Office of Economic and Business Development but a candy store with taxpayers providing the sweet treats.

We urge Council to keep a hard eye on the cash box.

–Breeze editorial

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