Let’s Make a Deal!

Here we go again. . .

It appears our Volusia County “economic development” shills are at it again – teasing us underemployed rubes here on the Fun Coast with another corporate thriller right out of the mind of John le Carré – complete with tantalizing clues, clandestine negotiations, a super-secret protagonist and, if we find our way through this byzantine maze of intrigue – the promise of “55 high wage jobs.”

That’s if you consider an “average” salary of $43, 401 “high wage”. . .

In typical fashion, last week we learned through a cryptic agenda item for Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting that another mysterious enterprise – code named Project Ocean – is considering locating here – so long as our elected officials agree to cough up a local match of $55K in public funds to qualify the company for a state corporate welfare program called the “High Impact Performance Incentive Grant” that, according to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “…could provide an additional $2,000 for each new job created.”

In total, the enigmatic company would qualify for tax incentives worth some $275,000 – a lure designed to woo the operation away from suitors in Mississippi and Georgia who are also vying for the company’s favors.

Whatever.

Look, like most of you, I would love to see these fabled “high paying jobs” come to Volusia County.

Given the trifecta of cheap land, the county’s casual attitude toward environmental protection and four colleges and universities producing an educated workforce champing at the bit for opportunities outside the warehouse industry – any corporation looking for a competitive edge should be paying us to move here.

Yet, our ‘powers that be’ continue to play this bullshit game of corporate hide-n-seek which requires the allocation of public funds with no substantive information, public debate or transparency.

Somehow, this statutorily protected anonymity that allows negotiations with code protected companies outside the public view – to include individual meetings with elected officials – has become accepted practice in local government, leaving more questions than answers from those who are expected to pay these dubious inducements.

For instance, how are we supposed to know if the tax breaks and cash incentives are relevant to the needs of the business – and the community – or just bureaucrats seeing who can shovel the most money to land a project?

Do we have a legitimate compliance apparatus in place to monitor actual job creation and ensure that We, The Little People, are getting maximum benefit from the incentives our elected officials authorized?

Look, we’ve been fooled before.

Don’t forget that both Team Volusia, and the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, still tout Blue Coast Bakers as employing 300 people – listing it as one of Volusia County’s “Largest Employers” – even though the now defunct operation never employed much more than a baker’s dozen during its short and mysterious existence.

Yet, the shim-sham continues on the official web pages of our publicly funded “economic development partners.”   

Why is that?   

Under the current process, we may be vying for a massive distribution center, a modern manufacturing operation or a toxic waste incinerator, we simply don’t know – and in this political environment – anything is possible. . .

It’s become a bad “Let’s Make a Deal” episode – where elected officials are asked to give away our money on dubious corporate welfare schemes with little, if any, knowledge of what’s behind door number three.

That’s wrong.

In this case, all we know is that, “The company has grown to become a multi-national, global industry leader in delivering the highest quality products and service, with 37 production facilities in 22 countries around the world.”

But what the hell does that mean? 

What ‘products and services’? 

That could be anything from enriched uranium to wooden spoons.

We’re told that the company will make its Grande Révélation at the County Council meeting this week – which is a damn sight better than the grab bag scenario we’ve become accustomed to.

For instance, the Deltona City Commission is still simmering over the fact some elected and appointed officials were told of Amazon’s interest in putting a distribution and logistics center in the community – while others were kept totally in the dark.

Earlier this month the News-Journal reported that during a testy exchange on the dais, City Commissioner Chris Nabicht angrily confronted Mayor Heidi Herzberg:

“Who authorized you to go in and speak to Amazon and the developers with regard to the incentive package when the only one that signed a non-disclosure agreement and was crucified about it was (Commissioner) Anita (Bradford)?” Nabicht said. “Who authorized you to do that, because the commission didn’t.”

Now there are calls for a formal investigation to determine if Mayor Herzberg overstepped her bounds by negotiating incentives with Amazon with no outside oversight or commission authorization – and former City Manager Jane Shang has fled City Hall like a scalded dog. . .

This unnecessary instability is the natural result of keeping important information from decision-makers while allowing select insiders advanced knowledge that can be used for a variety of advantages.

That’s unfair.

And counterproductive to true economic development – and government in the Sunshine.

 

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