“When it comes to competition, there is nothing more competitive than economic development,” Liberty County Development Authority’s CEO Ron Tolley said. “There are approximately 24,000 economic development organizations, just in the United States, trying to secure a limited number of new or expansion projects for their communities. It’s a very competitive business.”
2018 was a big year for the LCDA. They make retention and expansion the top two priorities of their organization. In 2018 alone, LCDA worked with at least five companies on major projects in Liberty County.
Liberty County is home to 16 industrial companies that employ more than 3,000 people, according to the LCDA’s website. The development authority provides support to its partners when the community is needed for projects—such as facility expansions or workforce development, the website reads.
According to Tolley, Sunbury Road’s paving was extended another 3,900-feet, in an effort to improve infrastructure at Trade Port East, making it easier for companies to view additional sites LCDA offers for future expansion.
“I’m pleased to show you the road has been paved, and we were successful with that infrastructure project,” Tolley said.
The project, he continued, opened access to large sites in the eastern portion of Tradeport East. The access was critical for future developments, since the large sites were no longer available in the western portion of the park. Two-hundred forty-three acres are currently occupied in the western portion by Tire Rack, Target, Hankook, and Arconic, with an additional 215 acres owned by either IDI or Gramercy.
Elan Technology, located out in Midway Industrial Park, has been based in Liberty County for quite a while. Elan Technology boasted a $4 million expansion, debuting a new calcinator building on their property, Tolley said.
Arconic is a fairly new business that continues to grow in Liberty County, Tolley said. When they first started, the forecasted growth was nearly 300 employees, and a total investment of $80.5 million. As of December 2018, there are 305 employees and nearly $170 million invested.
The Target distribution center experienced significant growth in its employment—increasing from the traditional 450 employees to reach 600 for the first time, Tolley said. The level is expected to remain steady for the foreseeable future.
A portion of Design Group’s operation was relocated to its Memphis facility, he said. The Balta Group—the largest producer of textile floor coverings in Europe— has leased the building the Design Group vacated.
“It’s expected that Balta will employ up to 100 people after it completes renovation of the vacated building,” Tolley said. “Balta was founded in 1964 and is headquartered in Belgium.”
The LCDA plans to continue marketing industrial parks, accessibility and labor force; facilitate additional development in Liberty County; and increase their ability to compete even more dynamically against development authorities in other counties with whom they compete for projects, Tolley continued.
“Aggressively marketing the benefits of new military zones that offer enhanced incentives for any size business will occupy a major portion of efforts being undertaken in 2019,” he said. “The Development Authority has secured some great wins; particularly after investing resources in creating industrial parks with needed infrastructure and worked to serve the industries we recruited by facilitating their continued expansions.”
There have been a few minor losses, Tolley added. The LCDA lost some apparel operations when the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed, but the losses were overcome quickly and replaced with better paying jobs. The initial losses resulted from federal legislation over which LCDA had no control, but it did reinforce the importance of diversification, Tolley said.
LCDA’s fiscal year 2019 budget hovers approximately at $8.5 million, and approximately $2.2 million—or 26 percent—is projected to be received from current year property taxes. Those taxes are received strictly from the county, Tolley said.
“The number 1; three of the top five; four of the top 10; and nine of the top 20 taxpayers in Liberty County are manufacturing or distribution companies recruited and served by the Development Authority,” Tolley said. “Although tax abatements may be provided to induce companies to come here in the heat of a highly competitive battle to recruit them, those abatements eventually disappear.”
Speaking of tax abatements, the process of enticing begins with having the quantity and quality of labor needed; the infrastructure; and increasingly, the available buildings, Tolley said. For retail and commercial companies, you need the right type of market demographics the business requires.
If, and when, those demands are successfully met, and LCDA makes the list of finalists, does the “enticement competition” begin, he continued. That almost universally takes the form of tax abatements.
“That’s why the first step in doing a bond issue for a project is called the Inducement Resolution,” Tolley said. “You are truly trying to induce the project to locate in your community instead of a competitor’s.”
In the end, the LCDA continues to grow, and so does Liberty County, in Tolley’s opinion. The investment in the major industrial parks and infrastructures needed to service industry; the awareness of the strong competition LCDA faces in recruitment; and the continuing efforts being made by the Development Authority and its partners increases their ability to successfully compete.
“One of the best ways I know to help people is to create situations that enable them to get jobs and support themselves and their families.”