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City proposal would pay business for job creation

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Greenville Councilman Rick Smiley.

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The City of Greenville is considering establishing a job creation grant program as a new way to stimulate economic growth.

The grant, which would be awarded by the City Council on a case-by-case basis, seeks to award new industry that creates jobs and expands the Greenville economy. The program is in the early stages of development, but staff from the city’s Office of Economic Development gave a presentation to Council June 8 to seek feedback on their preliminary ideas.

Companies eligible for the grant would have to employ 10 or more people at $25 per hour or higher, 30 or more at $11 per hour, or 50 or more at any pay rate, all with health benefits. Applications from eligible companies would be presented to the council at the discretion of the city manager and approved by council vote.

Companies that do not meet the criteria may still be eligible based on the manager’s discretion. Once approved, the companies would receive cash grants doled out over the course of 36 months. The funding for these grants would come from tax money. The grant amounts proposed include $1,500 per job at any rate and $3,000 per job for those that pay $25 or more per hour.

Christian Lockamy with the economic development office said grant money is intended for companies that create jobs in Greenville and reinvest locally. The proposal excluded businesses that created retail jobs, temporary jobs or medical jobs, the latter of which stirred debate.

Councilman P.J. Connelly said that medical services provided the city’s economic backbone. He said making a public decision exempting the medical community would send the wrong message to medical developers and students.

“It’s 10:30 at night, and I don’t know if there’s anyone at school, but clearly here at the council we’re basically telling all the students at the Brody School of Medicine, ‘don’t come to Greenville, go back to Charlotte, go to Raleigh, open your practice there,’” said Connelly. “This seems to be an ongoing theme that we’re shuffling people out of our community because we don’t like that kind of business or that we don’t want to reward them.”

Mayor Allen Thomas disagreed.

“That’s a complete exaggeration,” said Thomas. “Nobody here is saying ‘We don’t want your business here,’ that’s nonsense. Are we not trying to recruit from certain industries here? I thought there was a method to madness at some point, there has to be some methodology, and I do appreciate that, but to make the comment that we’re telling medical jobs to go to another city, that’s ridiculous.”

Councilman Rick Smiley said the medical providers would develop business in Greenville whether or not they were eligible for the program.

“One of the basic tenets of economic development is that you don’t incentivize things that are going to happen anyway,” said Smiley. “It’s a constant tension, there will always be people saying, ‘Hey incentivize me to do this,’ and it's tricky, but you have to make sure you don’t incentivize them to do something they were going to do anyways.”

Councilman McLean Godley said he didn’t want to limit the council’s ability to promote growth, even if Greenville already has a strong medical industry.

“There’s becoming fewer and fewer small practices,” said Godley. “There’s risk involved in going out on your own, and I don’t think we should cut them off just because we have a good medical industry; I don’t think we should cut them off just because there’s not a decent town for it within 50 miles in any direction so people have to come to Greenville for the medical services; I think we would be shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Lockamy said input from the Council would be taken into consideration as the office continued to refine the grant program. He said the office aims to present a more polished proposal during an August or September meeting.

Contact Seth Thomas Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579.

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