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Friday, Oct 31, 2014
Columnists

Henderson: Within reason, Amazon deal good for Hillsborough

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If I owned a business in our state, I would probably be firing off a letter with venomous language to Tallahassee right about now. The state has cut a deal with online retail giant Amazon to set up shop within our borders, using tax incentives as bait.

I can understand the hurt feelings from Amazon competitors, especially since buyers pay no sales tax (as of now) on their purchases. It’s not a level playing field, and there was similar squeamishness about the deal to bring Bass Pro Shops here.

Most businesses don’t get those breaks.

In the interest of full disclosure, though, I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. I was hooked a few years ago after I wrapped up Christmas shopping in about 10 minutes. To be honest, I didn’t even notice I wasn’t paying sales tax until stories started popping up about that issue.

The exemption ought to be changed, and if Amazon opens business outlets here Floridians will have to start paying sales tax on purchases. If it didn’t change though, that sense of civic fair play wouldn’t change my habit.

Click, click, click. The delivery man brings the stuff to your door. Good deal.

It lacks the ambiance of being stuck in holiday traffic for two hours, like my wife was last December at the lovely Brandon mall, but I can deal with that. I’m serious, it really was two hours.

Back on point, the deal Gov. Rick Scott cut to bring this business and its estimated 1,000 jobs to Florida — including, perhaps, a 1 million-square-foot distribution center in South Hillsborough County — is not without controversy. There is something uncomfortable about giving incentives to a company the size of Amazon, but that’s also the way the game is played these days.

If Amazon doesn’t come here, it will go somewhere else. We need it here and the 1,000 jobs it would bring, 375 of which would pay more than $47,000 a year. That’s the estimate from Hillsborough County officials.

“I love ’em,” County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said. “I know people will say we’re just getting a warehouse, but no, it’s not. This is a smart company. If I was a young man or woman, this would be a company I’d consider working for.

“I want Amazon here, and hopefully this is just the beginning. I want their executives here. I want them to have a toehold here.”

I guess we can figure out how Sharpe will vote on Hillsborough’s part of the incentive package — a tax incentive that works out to $600 an employee. I asked Sharpe what he would say to local business owners who don’t receive incentives.

“That is a legitimate issue,” he said. “I think about that every time we do one of these deals.”

However, states have been kneecapping each other for a while now to attract high-profile businesses. Big prizes like Amazon can pick and choose.

Within reason, it makes sense to do what it takes to bring those companies here. This deal sounds reasonable.

“It’s a modest investment to realize a significant return,” County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said. “It’s a grand slam for Hillsborough.”


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