Business and Economic Incentives Primer

Womble Carlyle

Competition among jurisdictions to recruit and retain companies is intense. To attract business to their communities, both state and local governmental authorities will often offer discretionary economic incentives for projects that generate substantial tax revenues or create significant employment opportunities. Companies requiring new or larger facilities or facing lease expirations for their existing operations should assess whether they might qualify for an “incentives package” from the various jurisdictions they are considering for their projects. The potential benefits will typically vary depending upon the project’s key capital expenditures, job creation potential and the company’s corresponding wage parameters and associated commitments. Companies with potentially qualifying projects should evaluate how to best leverage their unique strengths to negotiate all available incentive benefits and to maximize those benefits once they are secured.

Business and economic incentives are the tax, cash and in-kind benefits offered by state and local governments to induce a company to relocate to a new community or remain in its existing jurisdiction primarily to create or retain jobs and increase tax revenue. Incentives help businesses mitigate upfront capital and ongoing operating costs for its required projects. Tax incentives include a variety of income and sales/use tax credits, exemptions, reductions and abatements. These can also include other tax-related investment incentives, such as investment and tax credits, research and development tax incentives, and accelerated depreciation of industrial equipment. The Enterprise Zone (EZ), a special kind of tax incentive program (also known as Empowerment Zones and Empowerment Communities), has been used by the federal government and even more widely by many states.

Cash incentives include monetary grants, reimbursements of transportation or infrastructure costs and other financial incentives including alternative financing subsidies. One of the most common benefits in this category is the Industrial Development Bond (IDB) that is used by jurisdictions to offer low-interest loans to firms. A variation on the IDB is the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts that are used by many states. A TIF allows governments to float bonds to help companies based on their anticipated future tax impact. In-kind incentives include expedited permitting by the state, county and local municipality and customized worker training programs. Some jurisdictions also offer other in-kind benefits such as watered-down environmental regulations and “right to work” laws that inhibit union organizing. Some states also have federal grant monies they are empowered to allocate towards different programs and projects depending on a project’s possible “public” infrastructure needs and other specific criteria.

In offering incentives, cities and counties are typically driven more by investments that increase the tax base while states focus more on jobs that pay above average wages. Some jurisdictions will provide incentives only for manufacturing projects or for specific statutory lists of facilities such as manufacturing, distribution facilities, air cargo hubs, multimodal facilities, headquarters facilities and data centers. Other states will not provide incentives for retail or hospitality facilities. In general, cities and counties have more flexibility than states in the kinds of projects for which they will provide incentives. Some states have wage tests and require that health care insurance and benefits be provided at the employer’s cost or that at least a portion of the cost be subsidized.

Whether for a corporate expansion or relocation, it is critical for a company to initiate its incentive identification and negotiation efforts early in the site-selection process for its project. Specifically, to achieve the greatest negotiating leverage, a company should begin the pursuit of economic incentives at the same time it is are undertaking its site selection efforts, since it is at this point in the process that competition readily exists between the cities, counties and/or states interested in enticing the company to relocate or remain in their jurisdictions. Since the success of this process is, in part, dependent upon “competing” the relevant state and local jurisdictions, it is important for a company to make it clear to all who are acting for the company that no decision or no public announcement may be made about the company’s plans until the company has evaluated all relevant factors.

To begin the process, a company should form a project team that will work with various economic development representatives from the relevant jurisdictions to achieve the optimal incentives package. The project team should develop a formal incentives negotiation strategy that would include some if not all of the following components:

  • Identifying and analyzing all incentive opportunities available for the project.
  • Determining the company’s short and long term capital and operating costs as well as job creation estimates.
  • Preparing a preliminary “incentives” pro forma.
  • Outlining the plan for securing the incentives and evaluating the related commitments that will be necessary from the company.
  • Identifying and integrating important components of the company’s corporate culture into the negotiation requests and strategy.
  • Determining the essential needs of the project to be included as the non-negotiable points of the company’s business case.
  • Defining the “business case” for why a jurisdiction would benefit from the company’s relocation to that state/county, such as tax (income and sales) revenues to be generated and the jobs to be created by the company.
  • Identifying how to formulate the most productive partnership between the company and the community.
  • Determining how to work creatively within the state and local framework.
  • Considering the use of a third party economic impact study to create an effective business case showing the jurisdiction how to fund the incentives.

A company that is well positioned to benefit from business and economic incentives should engage a seasoned professional who has a successful track record in achieving incentive benefits from the jurisdictions relevant to its business. Working in coordination with the governmental authorities, the right advisor can assist the company in establishing timelines for critical dates, administering applications to secure the incentives, and obtaining formal jurisdictional approvals to ensure compliance is implemented and negotiated incentives are realized. The advisor will also participate, as requested, in presentations for internal and governmental board approval and provide ongoing information and updates to the company during key phases of the incentive pursuit process.

After the final incentives package has been negotiated, the company and the jurisdiction will prepare and negotiate the required incentives agreements and then pursue the formal final governmental approvals. Public relations personnel for the company and the governmental authority are typically involved at this stage to prepare supporting media releases and project announcements. Once all necessary approvals are obtained, the company must establish internal documentation and processes to satisfy the compliance requirements to realize the negotiated incentives, which typically takes the form of a compliance manual.

Business and economic incentives can be valuable tools for a company to reduce costs, increase savings and manage risks as they pursue a signature lease transaction, building acquisition or facility development. To achieve the optimal result, the incentives process must be carefully managed from inception to completion, toward the ultimate goal of creating a meaningful partnership between the company and the community in which the company will conduct its business.

This article originally was published in the August 2013 edition of “Focus on WMACCA,” the newsletter of the Washington Metropolitan Area Corporate Counsel Association

This article was written with Scott R. Hoffman with Cushman & Wakefield.

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