Atlanta board OKs controversial cash, tax breaks for major companies
By Maggie Lee
Atlanta’s economic development board granted tax breaks and cash worth a total $2.1 million to three major corporations Thursday.
But some folks think BlackRock, Norfolk Southern and Invesco already have pretty sweet public subsidies and objected.
“How much do we reward successful corporations for coming to Atlanta?” said Bill Bozarth, an Invest Atlanta board member, during the Thursday meeting where he voted “no” to three of the four proposals for the three companies.
BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, will receive $500,000 in city of Atlanta dollars in the form of a “economic opportunity fund for business retention and expansion” grant. Last year, Invest Atlanta approved a $705,000 personal property tax break for the company’s equipment. And in March this year, the state of Georgia gave BlackRock $4 million. And the building it’s in, 725 Ponce, also has a property tax break.
The board also voted a similar $600,000 business retention grant for Norfolk Southern. The railroad’s new Midtown Atlanta headquarters have already been granted a property tax break worth $24 million over 10 years. (Separately, Norfolk Southern is making some northwest Atlanta residents angry with its plans to turn the old Chattahoochee Brick yard into a bulk transfer facility.)
Invesco, also a huge asset manager, will receive a $150,000 grant in the same category as BlackRock. And Invest Atlanta’s board also approved a personal property tax break on office equipment that will be worth about $843,000. INVESCO is set to move its headquarters to the Midtown Union Building that will be on the block between 17th, West Peachtree and Spring streets. Fulton County’s development authority granted that building a property tax break worth $57 million over 10 years.
Cities, counties and states across the country routinely offer valuable incentives of one type or another to woo companies.
The idea is that the pie gets bigger when a big company moves to a community — and eventually pays a full tax bill, and has employees who pay income taxes and so on.
All three corporate locations — BlackRock, Norfolk Southern and Invesco — were what are called “competitive” projects, according to Invest Atlanta.
That is, other communities were making their own pitches for these corporate locations and Atlanta feared losing out to Salt Lake City or Austin or other places.
Criticism of Thursday’s Invest Atlanta business came from some 18 emails from the public — which is a lot of comment for a rather obscure city board. The emails called the grants and tax breaks corporate welfare, corporate giveaways, and so on.
Former Invest Atlanta board member Julian Bene sent one of the emails.
“Invest Atlanta cannot seriously claim to play a role in promoting a more equitable city with these favors on the agenda,” he wrote.
There was little obvious enthusiasm from the board to approve the deals for the three companies. Each motion struggled to get someone to second it. Only the Invesco $150,000 grant passed unanimously.
But the tax breaks and grants were part of the initial pitch to each company, in courtships that go back years and years.
“I think the bar for saying ‘no’ on something we’ve already OK’d should be high,” said Boardmember Fred Smith just before the BlackRock vote. It’s a sentiment several of his colleagues echoed during the morning meeting.
Invest Atlanta and the city of Atlanta have made moves toward an economic development policy that lifts up local folks, people who don’t have college degrees and parts of town that need investment.
Atlanta’s workforce agency was recently integrated into Invest Atlanta, putting job training and placement under the same roof with business recruitment. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ One Atlanta plan spells out exactly how her administration wants to work to achieve better economic outcomes for Atlanta residents, primarily Black and brown communities where low household income and high rates of poverty and unemployment persist.
After Thursday morning’s votes, Invest Atlanta President and CEO Eloisa Klementich made a comment to her board.
“We heard you, board,” she said. “I just want to thank you for allowing us to get through those previous commitments and change is on the way.”
There was one more personal property tax abatement approved Thursday. It’ll be worth $269,000 in savings to Coffee Cafe Bakery, a contractor to the likes Dunkin’ Donuts. The bakery will employ some 70 people at a Browns Mill Road site.