ALBANY, Ga. — Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission President/CEO Ted Clem minced no words when asked if the joint Albany City Commission/Water, Gas & Light Commission Long-Term Financial Planning Committee’s preliminary decision Tuesday morning to allow use of up to $20 million for economic development incentives provided him with a useful tool in selling the region.
“Tool?” Clem said. “This is a sledgehammer, man.”
The LTFPC adopted disbursement policy drawn up by committee members Bob Langstaff and Bob Hutchinson that, once given final approval by the City Commission, would allow the EDC to use a one-third portion of credits returned to WG&L from a trust paid to the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia as a hedge against deregulation.
One-third of that fund, originally estimated at close to $100 million but downgraded to around $75 million because of economic factors, goes to the city of Albany’s general fund, another third goes into WG&L’s coffers and the final third is placed in a trust managed by the Long-Term Planning Committee.
“I’ve felt, and other members of the (City) Commission have as well, that we should do something significant and meaningful with the (MEAG) funds,” Langstaff said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do that.”
The policy drawn up by Langstaff and Hutchinson — “the two Bobs,” according to LTFPC Chairman Tommie Postell — sets hefty provisions for use of the funds: the generation of 100 or more jobs or the capital investment of at least $10 million by new businesses or the expansion of existing businesses.
Committee member Christopher Pike said he’d like to see some type of restriction drawn into a screening process that will fall under the auspices of the EDC.
“This is one of the most positive and proactive meetings I’ve been a part of since I’ve been on the (City) Commission,” Pike said. “I’m exciting about the possibilities; these are the types of things we should be doing with this (MEAG) money.
“But I think we should set some guidelines on the types of jobs (that qualify businesses for the incentive funds). I mean, do we want to spend $1 million to get 100 jobs that pay $7.50 an hour?”
Pike also suggested looking at the possibility of using a portion of taxes generated by the LTFPC incentives to put back into the fund, much as the city does with its state-approved tax allocation districts.
Postell said using the MEAG funds as economic incentives could reverse the trend of businesses looking outside Southwest Georgia for possible location or expansion.
“When we first started to get the MEAG money, there was a kind of hit-and-miss attitude about spending it,” he said. “We didn’t want that. We wanted to incentivize the money and help remove the stigma of Albany not being business friendly. We can do that now.”
Hutchinson said the proposal offers the potential for tremendous return on an investment Albany residents essentially made as WG&L ratepayers.
“This is something I think we can sell to the public as beneficial to everyone,” he said. “To bring additional jobs here is clearly a direction that will benefit everyone. Rather than nickel-and-diming out of the fund and gradually depleting it, we have an opportunity to look for state and federal matching funds and really incentivizing it to benefit our community.”
The MEAG money under care of the Long-Term Financial Planning Committee would be known as “Albany’s Job Investment Fund.” Its current value is around $9 million.
“(Dougherty County Commission Chairman) Jeff Sinyard told me another city in the state set aside SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) funds for this type of thing, and they’ve already landed two new businesses and have a third one looking,” Langstaff said. “We’ll have an even larger fund to work from.”
Sinyard said Dublin/Laurens County in middle Georgia had set aside $15 million in special tax funds to use for infrastructure improvements/economic development and in 12 months had already landed two businesses that brought slightly less than 500 total jobs to the community
“Their unemployment was around 14 percent, and they decided to make a dramatic move,” Sinyard said. “The SPLOST passed with more than 90 percent voting for it, and they went ahead and issued a (tax anticipation) bond for $9 million to have the money up front.
“That decision has made a big difference there in a community about half our size, and that’s the kind of thing I think the city, mayor and Water, Gas & Light are looking at doing here under very explicit parameters. When you have funds available, it puts you at the top of the (business location) prospect list.”
Clem, meanwhile, said he’s excited about the new tool afforded the EDC.
“This gives us a leg up on other communities,” he said. “In a lot of cases, it’s the kind of thing that can get us over the top.”