By MIKE EDDLEMAN
As growth moves into the area, the Liberty Hill Economic Development Corporation wants to play a role in building the community.
To build, the organization needs the right tools in its toolbox, and for economic development that often means incentives.
Incentives are a part of the economic development effort, and for EDC Executive Director Lance Dean, such benefits should remain a small part of the process.
“When that’s the first question that comes out of someone’s mouth when I’m talking to them, it honestly kind of turns me off,” Dean said. “The way I look at it is you either want to be here or you don’t. Incentives should be more of a shared benefit, not something that is expected.”
The Economic Development Board received a draft incentives plan at its Jan. 11 meeting for consideration. Once finalized, the program will be funded by $50,000, allocated from the EDC budget.
The Board has met and discussed incentive options a number of times, and Board President Bill Chapman sees the draft presented as something close to a solid beginning for the program.
“I think this is close to following the framework of what we were after,” he said. “The criteria might change, but we see this as a work in progress. When it does exist we might want to revise things some. This is a baby step for us to begin with”
Chapman said the hope is to incentivize investors and developers with small benefits that catch their attention, but don’t negate or compromise the tax revenues for the city and school district once businesses are established.
“The biggest relief to taxpayers is to have commercial businesses that ease that burden on them,” Chapman said. “Residential developers are coming anyway. If we want to quit taxing the homeowners to death we need to bring some good retailers.”
For consideration and discussion at the Board’s next meeting, are incentives that would offer applicants reimbursement for city permits and fees and or partial salary reimbursement.
The Board will discuss these incentive proposals and possible changes or additions at its Jan. 23 meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Liberty Hill Learning & Event Center.
The proposed incentives come with capital investment or job creation requirements, and are targeted at new or eligible expanding businesses. The draft incentives stipulate eligibility is based on a minimum investment of $1 million, or a minimum of 10 jobs. The jobs are broken down by type and a minimum average salary of $25,000 for retail, and $45,000 for new industry or reuse industry and expansion.
The incentives program also comes with stipulations regarding the process, plans and timeline for applicants’ projects.
Dean said the new incentives proposal is based on the framework of some of the other programs the EDC has in place such as downtown facade grants and sign grants.
The grant programs have had an impact downtown, where the emphasis began.
“The downtown area is where the City and EDC put a focus on a few years ago, an area we wanted to help revitalize,” Dean said. “It has had a nice effect on the downtown area and it is creating a draw. We have new businesses here, we have more traffic downtown.”
The success of these programs downtown has caused the EDC to begin moving toward making them available throughout Liberty Hill.
“Last year, we took (the sign grant program) and have moved it out to the general Liberty Hill area,” Dean said. “Now we have a sign grant program for other businesses in Liberty Hill. I’d like to expand the facade grant there as well, but we don’t have that in place yet.”
All of these programs together, are what Dean said the EDC needs to build itself and begin to make a bigger impact when it comes to recruiting and helping businesses expand.
“One of the challenges we have here, compared to other cities in Williamson County, is that we’re small,” he said. “We’re just now getting on the field to compete with the others. We don’t have the deep pockets and resources that the Round Rocks, Cedar Parks and Leanders do. For us, the great thing is we are getting a program in place.”