Sole commissioner system a plus for Bartow industry, also plenty of prime acreage - Northwest Georgia News: Business

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Sole commissioner system a plus for Bartow industry, also plenty of prime acreage

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Posted: Monday, July 21, 2014 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:43 am, Tue Jul 22, 2014.

Steve Taylor doesn’t have to do any arm wrestling with other county commissioners to get things done in Bartow County.

He’s the county’s sole commissioner.

Just as the interstate is able to move goods quickly, Taylor doesn’t have to worry about getting a quorum together, with commissioners sick or on vacation. But being able to make your own majority also comes with a heavy responsibility.

“We can do deals that some communities might not have the leverage to do,” Taylor said. “But I’m not going to do anything that’s not beneficial to Bartow County.”

Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini said the City Council has given him a lot of latitude when it comes to working with Taylor on economic development issues.

That power partnership, along with the availability of immediately developable property, gives Bartow an edge in attracting new industry.

Taylor said the county has close to 1,800 acres available less than two miles off I-75 at the Cass-White Road exit, just north of the Budweiser brewery.

The Highlands 75 Industrial Park is a Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development site, which means it is already primed to receive tenants.

“The state economic development officials know all about it,” Taylor said. “We’ve got water, sewer, roads, rail — everything is already at the site.”

InBev, the Belgian company that owns Anheuser-Busch, has another 1,000 acres between the brewery and Cass-White Road.

InBev has agreed to let Bartow County market that entire tract, which is almost directly south of the Highlands 75 Park.

Beaulieu International Group, another Belgian company, will be the first to take space on the property.

Taylor said the county is in a position now to be a little more selective in which industries they recruit — and they don’t necessarily have to offer the tax abatements they’ve awarded in the past to get the best fits for the community.

“You know the last two companies that have come in, Beaulieu and Surya Rug, we haven’t had to offer school tax abatements,” Taylor said.

When Taylor took office in January 2013, one of the first things he did was raise property taxes. Floyd County’s rate . He still says that was the toughest decision he’s made in 19 months on the job, but it had to be done to cover the bills.

“We had to bite the bullet and get it done,” Taylor said.

Now, he said, the county’s success in luring new industry means it’s likely he can hold the property tax line, at 9.68 mills in the unincorporated area, for the foreseeable future.

“If anything I’m hopeful the millage rate will start decreasing next year,” Taylor said.

Other incentives

Bartow County increased its freeport exemption — from the tax manufacturers pay on their inventory — to 100 percent within the past year.

Joe Frank Harris Jr., president of the Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, said that was an early move by Taylor that has reaped significant benefits. Harris said the exemption was a significant factor in the recruitment of Surya Rugs.

Inside the city of Carters ville, the freeport exemption is on just 60 percent of a plant’s inventory, but Santini said it will rise to 80 percent in 2015 and to 100 percent in 2016.

While the loss of tax revenue to the city school system will be significant, Santini said, he believes that growth will more than make up for the loss.

However, Melinda Lemmon, executive director of the Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development, said a 100-percent freeport exemption is probably more important to the 130 manufacturers already in the county than it is in luring new companies.

Another thing industry officials prioritize when looking to relocate or expand is the availability of a skilled workforce, and Harris said developing the Cartersville-Bartow College and Career Academy has been a step in the right direction.

Bartow officials spent a lot of time looking at the Floyd County College and Career Academy, using it as a model for its own new facility, he added.

Lemmon also tipped her hat to public officials who had the foresight to tap into Lake Allatoona, to guarantee sufficient clean water for the community.

And Santini said Cartersville’s city-owned utilities — gas and electric — have also helped attract industry.

Not all companies opt to go with the city system, but utility revenues help keep the city’s property tax levy down to 1.4 mills.

“Prospects, like everyone else, like low property taxes,” Santini said.

One incentive Bartow County rejected was the elimination of sales tax on energy used by manufacturers. The Georgia General Assembly passed a law phasing it out, but gave local governments the option of reinstating the levy for their share.

Taylor said giving it up would have cost the county close to $1 million a year.

“We’ll take another look at it in the future,” Taylor said. “There are other incentives that we can use to get companies in here besides the sales tax on industry.”

Rome and Floyd County chose not to reimpose the levy after local economic developers said it would provide the community with a competitive advantage.