Source: NorthFulton.com

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Alpharetta offers economic development incentives

by Hatcher Hurd

December 10, 2010

ALPHARETTA There was a time when Alpharetta's fiberoptic technology, highly educated workforce, great schools, upscale housing and high quality of life ensured the city's competitiveness for top businesses to relocate here. Not any more.

The new reality is it is a "buyer's market" for corporations wishing to relocate, and that means offering incentives. In that area, the city has been at a distinct disadvantage for some time now. Alpharetta had been in the running for three or four lucrative relocations, but lost out to Dallas, Texas, due at least in part to the city's inability to offer any development incentives.

At the Dec. 6 Alpharetta City Council meeting, the council heard from its experts that the city would have to "pay to play" and it approved certain measures that will have to be reauthorized on an annual basis.

At the request of Councilman Mike Kennedy, the council had deputized Assistant City Administrator (and former Economic Development Director) James Drinkard to come up with a temporary incentive program to sway corporate relocations to come to Alpharetta.

Drinkard said he had a conservative plan that would offer up to $25,000 in waived development fees charged by the city for companies that met specific and significant criteria.

"These will in no way match what some cities are willing to pay, but these incentives will show a willingness to work with businesses and keep us in the hunt a little longer. And the longer we stay, the better the chance we have to [win out]," he said.

It also sends a message to Georgia about its commitment to new development. Drinkard said the Governor's Office will only put up its limited redevelopment resources (a paltry $5 million for the entire state) for communities that also offer incentives.

"We have lost quality development projects and will likely continue to lose such projects. We need these incentives to be competitive," Drinkard said.

He also said the incentives offered would be more than compensated over three to five years through other revenues garnered by the city, not including the economic multiplier of having new people buying homes, spending in the local economy and adding to the quality of life.

Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce COO and Vice President for Economic Development Tedra Cheatham told the council North Fulton lost out recently on four prime projects in which a lack of incentives to offer hurt local efforts.

"We lost to Dallas, which has as a development tool deal-closing funds [to offer as inducements]. Georgia prohibits such funds. But with local incentives, we can stay in the game longer," Cheatham said.

Councilman Chris Owens said he supported the incentives, because it comes from a sound framework that builds on cooperation with the state efforts.

"And $25,000 is not a significant income compared to what 20,000 square feet [of office] and 100 jobs means to the community," Owens said. "We are not selling incentives alone."

Mayor Arthur Letchas agreed, saying, "In this economy, we need to do something. This is a start."

The council voted for the motion 7-0.