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Tax incentive deals bring 1,000+ jobs to Pinellas, Hillsborough

Margie Manning

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Photo by Venveo on Unsplash

Eight companies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties said they would create 1,106 high-wage jobs over the next several years, when they signed Qualified Target Industry tax refund agreements with the state in 2018.

The companies — ranging from industry giants Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR) and MetLife Group (NYSE: MET) to iSocrates, a small tech startup in St. Petersburg — are in line for a combined $5.3 million in state and local tax breaks if they create the promised jobs.

Some of the deals have gone public in news releases and press conferences, while others have quietly slipped under the radar. Those unpublicized deals in 2018 include QTI agreements for Charter in Tampa; L’Oreal USA S/D Inc. and iSocrates in St. Petersburg; Oscor Inc. in Palm Harbor; and Jeffry Knight in Clearwater.

The Qualified Target Industry tax refunds were all approved by county commissioners in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and by the respective city councils in the communities in which the companies are located, but the names of the companies were not disclosed at the time of approval. Once the deals are signed, they appear in the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s database.

Four companies each committed to create more than 100 new jobs. Three of them are in Hillsborough County — life insurer MetLife, 430 jobs; telecommunications provider Charter, 235 jobs; and online restaurant supply company WEBstaurantStore  Inc., 155 jobs.

The fourth is L’Oreal USA S/D Inc., a New York-based cosmetics company that said it would create 103 jobs in St. Petersburg, paying at least 115 percent of the average annual wage in Florida. Pinellas County was competing with a site in New Jersey for the jobs, Mark Woodard, the county administrator, told the county commission when it approved the deal without knowing the company’s name on Oct. 31, 2017.

L’Oreal said it would relocate and expand its accounting functions from Canada and New Jersey, according to the QTI agreement the company signed with the state on March 9, 2018. L’Oreal said it would pay an average annualized wage of $52,396. The company is in line to get up to $309,000 in tax refunds from the state and from Pinellas County and St. Petersburg over four years, ending in 2023, provided it creates the jobs.

Bill Lederer, CEO, iSocrates, at Tampa Bay Wave’s pitch night in November

Three other smaller Pinellas County projects are:

iSocrates, which moved its technology-enabled media and market operations from Westport, Connecticut to St. Petersburg, said it would create at least 50 new jobs with an average annual wage of $68,343, and could get up to $300,000 in tax refunds.

iSocrates is among the seven companies in Tampa Bay Wave’s post-accelerator cohort.

Jeffry Knight Inc. said it would expand its corporate headquarters and communications information technology operations in Clearwater, committing to create 50 new jobs at an average annual wage of $53,298, in return for potential tax refunds of $250,000.

Oscor Inc., which develops, designs, manufactures and markets highly specialized medical devices, said it would create 38 new jobs at its office in Palm Harbor, paying an average annual wage of $45,562, and would qualify for up to $114,000 in tax refunds.

Whether a deal gets publicized is largely at the discretion of the state or county economic development agency, people familiar with the process said. In some cases, a company will ask to hold off on an announcement until it has completed an expansion and has something to show off to the public.

There can be a long lag time between when the QTI agreement is signed and when it is announced. For instance, S.S. White Technologies Inc., which relocated from New Jersey to Seminole, signed a QTI agreement in 2015, but did not talk publicly about its move and expansion until a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new headquarters in November 2018.

Florida’s QTI incentive is available for companies that create high wage jobs in targeted high value-added industries. The incentive includes refunds on corporate income, sales, ad valorem, intangible personal property, insurance premium, and certain other taxes, according to Enterprise Florida. Companies get a $3,000 tax refund for each new full-time job and a $2,000 additional refund for jobs in a designated high impact sector. The refunds are not paid until after the jobs are created.

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