County baits hook for Amazon

County baits hook for Amazon

December 2nd, 2010 by Dan Whisenhunt in News

Hamilton County commissioners sweetened the deal for Amazon.com on Wednesday, approving the county's portion of millions in tax incentives.

Along with Chattanooga and Bradley County, Hamilton is hoping to lure the Seattle-based company into building two distribution centers, one in Hamilton and one in Bradley.

The incentives, including state grants, job-creation and property tax credits and money for employee training assistance, are worth more than $30 million total for both sites.

An Amazon official said he is grateful for the commission's offer but indicated that negotiations are ongoing and there are other competing, undisclosed sites.

"We would hope to finish negotiations before the end of the year," Fred Kiga, Amazon's director of policy, said after the commission meeting.

Under the 11-year agreement, Amazon would get a break on its property taxes for its 80-acre site in the Enterprise South industrial park, but it would pay 100 percent of the schools' share of the tax.

The county is giving up $435,884 in tax revenue per year, and receiving $429,624 in school taxes. The city will give up $722,716 in tax revenue per year.

The agreement, approved unanimously by the nine-member commission, was the same deal approved Tuesday by the Chattanooga City Council.

The facility in Bradley County is expected to employ 226 people, plus up to 600 to 800 seasonal workers, according to Douglas Berry, the vice president of economic development for the Cleveland Bradley Chamber of Commerce. Berry said Bradley County plans to offer a 50 percent property tax break for 10 years worth $2.5 million. He said the state also plans to allocate Bradley County $2.2 million in economic development grants.

The incentives are a draw for the company, Kiga said.

"They do play a role in the overall economic costs of standing up a facility," he said.

The proposed centers are expected to bring 1,249 full-time jobs to Hamilton County, but that number would swell during the holidays to more than 2,000, Kiga told commissioners. He said the average annual salary would be $30,500, not including the cost of benefits.

Trevor Hamilton, the vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said Hamilton County's and the city's portion of the incentives are worth a combined $9 million.

The Hamilton County site would handle shipping of smaller items, while the Bradley County center would handle larger items, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said.

When asked if the community can afford to offer tax breaks to private companies during an economic lull, Littlefield said "yes."

"Employed people pay taxes," he said.

Commission Chairman Fred Skillern said luring Amazon is "just a piece of the puzzle."

"This makes our (economic) base a lot more diverse," Skillern said.

Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this story.