Mark Bernardini | Digital marketing firm seeks $144,000 to relocate to Sarasota

The undisclosed firm is seeking $144,000 in grants to bring 72 full-time jobs with an average wage of just over $40,000.

SARASOTA COUNTY — A digital marketing company is looking to become the next business to secure local economic development incentives to relocate to Sarasota County.

Code-named Project Polish, the undisclosed firm is seeking $144,000 in grants to bring 72 full-time jobs to the county with an average wage of just more than $40,000.

The Sarasota County Commission will consider the incentives at its meeting Monday morning in Venice.

The company recently signed a long-term contract for website and digital marketing services to 2,500 retailers working with “the largest flooring manufacturer in the world,” Sarasota County Economic Development Director Jeff Maultsby noted in his written report to the commission.

The company, which enjoys confidentiality during the negotiating process, “is also considering Boca Raton, Florida,” Maultsby wrote. “The Company is looking for financial support from Sarasota County to help make the final decision.”

If approved, the grant would be disbursed over eight years for $2,000 per job created and the sustained average wage, according to the report.

The decision comes amid a pointed review of the incentives issued by the county and the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. The review began last fall after the commission voted down a high-profile incentives package code-named Project Mulligan, and got an extra push when the Commissioners Nancy Detert and Mike Moran were elected in November.

The so-called Project Mulligan was focused on luring the headquarters of a national roofing firm, later revealed to be North American Roofing, which ultimately moved to Tampa. The case highlighted a philosophical tension between using incentives to encourage growth and the perception that they unfairly benefit potential competitors to local companies.

Both Detert and Moran have pushed for more specifics in what types of companies should be targeted for and receive incentives, with Moran frequently pressing county and EDC staff for more detail in its processes and planning. The commission has scheduled a special workshop in May to address Moran’s contention that the current incentive structure is not geared toward the specific types of “career creation” opportunities and sectors that he campaigned on last year.

EDC President and CEO Mark Huey finished a report in February that details his review of the incentives program based on discussions with business leaders.

The report concludes business leaders’ consensus is that the decision to deny incentives for North American Roofing’s headquarters office “should not by itself be the basis for sweeping policy or process changes.”

“Generally, all participants believe that the Board of County Commissioners should always make decisions consistent with their approved incentive policy,” the report concludes. “Inconsistent decisions create risk and uncertainty that compromise our ‘business-friendly’ image and will limit our ability to compete for economic diversification opportunities.”

But the 10-page report does not discuss at length commissioners’ concerns that the county develop more niche target industries, such as biotechnology or sports medicine, for incentives. The report includes only one note that the county use the state’s list of “targeted industries” that identify qualified projects, as it does now, and “pursue and welcome all opportunities” with headquarters, manufacturing and research companies as highest priorities.

The remainder of the report instead offers pages of anonymous comments from participants. They most often note the EDC and business leaders’ lack of ability to advocate for incentive projects and warnings that Project Mulligan tarnished an already bad county reputation.

“We already have an image of being anti-business,” one unnamed participant wrote. “Limiting this list (of targeted industries) won’t really accomplish anything as far as attracting industries, but will promote our anti-growth reputation.”

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