By. John Haksch, Louisa Field Officer
In their meeting last week (3/19), Andy Wade, Director of the Louisa County Department of Economic Development (LCDED), presented a new twist on incentive programs to the Board of Supervisors – huge incentives that the county normally offers to large industrial projects – targeted in part at what would be considered, were they not part of a major corporation, to be essentially ‘mom & pop’ businesses. Specifically mentioned as an example was The Olive Garden, a part of the Darden portfolio of restaurants.
Mr. Wade’s proposal would offer a mix of incentives including tax breaks, utility fee waivers and – most troublesome – an up-front payment of up to $500,000 to the owners to help defray the costs of building the business here in the county.
This amount is subject to recovery through meals and sales tax revenues – but only if the business does well. One must question whether there is a large enough potential customer base for an eatery to generate the ‘rosy-glasses’ $3,000,000 first year gross sales projected by the LCDED.
It is not clear if the earnings of – at most – twenty or so employees at less-than-median wage jobs and a modest tax revenue increase would justify tying up a half a million dollars of otherwise interest-earning county funds for nearly three and a half years. Further, the document presented to the board confuses return on investment(ROI) with funds recovery. The plan, as presented, shows no real ROI for more than three years…not such a bargain!
One has only to look eastward down the I-64 corridor to see West Creek and White Oak, both projects that cost their local taxpayers many millions in infrastructure improvements only to have the projects – and the carrot of promised jobs – vanish with a few apologetic shrugs. These were major initiatives by giants in their fields, each with a huge international customer base.
How much more risky is a restaurant, regardless of its name recognition, that is dependent on the fickle tastes and economic success of the general public?
The Free Enterprise Forum asks is the culinary preference of a few constituents good enough reason to risk the hard-earned taxes of the vast majority of our citizens, who are more concerned with getting bread on their tables than where to get warm breadsticks delivered to their table?
In the end the incentive package framework passed unanimously with the understanding that each and every applicant seeking any (or all) of these incentives will require Board of Supervisors approval.
Considering the pressing needs of county infrastructure, massive damage from our earthquake, and threats of VDOT devolution the Free Enterprise Forum wonders if there are more constructive uses for limited revenues than creating economic development incentives for chain (or any other) restaurants.
It would seem that economic development activity should be focused on increasing employment opportunities for Louisa County citizens not expanding culinary options.
In many respects if Louisa County had stronger economic demographics, population and infrastructure, it could be argued such businesses would come without any local government incentives.
John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.
The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support our work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo credits: Olive Garden, Louisa Department of Economic Development, Louisa County