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In sudden reversal, PricewaterhouseCoopers drops bid for tax incentives

TAMPA — In a surprise reversal, PricewaterhouseCoopers on Wednesday withdrew a controversial application for $1.1 million in public subsidies tied to maintaining and growing its Tampa operations.

Despite the change, the firm's attorney said it will go ahead with construction of a $78 million building in West Shore.

The turnabout was the latest in two weeks of developments that have confused and disturbed some city and Hillsborough County officials.

"I was very surprised to hear that they were turning down the incentives," said Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, who was skeptical of the process of approving the subsidies. "But I am very glad that they have reiterated their intention to stay here."

Several Tampa City Council members and Hillsborough County commissioners said they were led to believe a then-unnamed financial services firm needed the incentives to keep 1,633 jobs in Tampa. The boards approved the incentives in July.

State law allows the identities of companies to remain confidential while officials negotiate incentives, but PricewaterhouseCoopers identified itself as the firm a few days after the vote.

At the same time, a PricewaterhouseCoopers executive said the firm hadn't planned to move its operations center regardless.

"We never considered moving those 2,000 jobs out of Tampa," the firm's Florida market managing partner Mario de Armas told the St. Petersburg Times.

That turned out to be a million-dollar quote. It contradicted a written application made on the firm's behalf saying it had competing offers from South Carolina, India, Singapore and Argentina.

Rather, the firm said the incentives were an inducement to construct the office building at Tampa's MetWest International site and add another 200 local jobs.

The firm had already won approval for $120,000 in incentives for the new hires in May.

Then came the request for an additional $1.1 million, which the state pledged to meet with another $800,000. The status of the state money is not clear.

"PwC never expected controversy in response to its plan to remain and expand in Tampa," company representative and Carlton Fields lawyer Kenneth Tinkler wrote to city and county officials. "This decision by no means changes the scope of PwC's commitment to preserve and create jobs in Tampa."

Local officials said they had no inkling the firm would drop its request but were glad the project will go forward.

County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to review how the county handles applications for incentives.

Officials from the city, county and Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. met Monday to discuss ways to make the process of reviewing such applications more consistent.

"What happened here will not happen again, not while this council's here," said council member Yvonne Yolie Capin.

Rhea Law, chairwoman of the Economic Development Corp. that brokered the incentive package, said the rules were followed in this case. She said no one from her organization encouraged the company to withdraw.

PricewaterhouseCoopers has played many roles in Tampa Bay's economy — employing a couple of thousand people, laying off hundreds, creating new positions and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax incentives for that job creation. And it all happened about the same time.

A year ago, in a rare disclosure, the firm confirmed plans to lay off almost 500 information technology workers, most in Tampa. The cuts were the fallout from a decision to outsource work to an India-based company, Tata Consulting Services. Law produced a Times story about those layoffs as proof that the employees in Tampa could be considered at-risk.

Until this week, however, the company had not disclosed exactly how many Tampa workers had been impacted. About 390 workers at its Tampa offices were included in the targeted group. Of that, 234 were laid off by December; 58 resigned before the layoff date; 42 were hired by Tata; 37 were moved to other roles inside the firm; and 19 were hired for other IT positions in the United States.

Throughout the downsizing, the firm continued collecting tax rebates from Tampa, Hillsborough and the state under a 2005 incentive package tied to creating 320 high-paying jobs in Tampa.

So far, it has received $895,000 in payments from that deal. The company anticipates receiving another $320,000 soon, and just finished paperwork for a final, $50,000 installment. Put together, that's $1.265 million.

Meanwhile, amid cuts elsewhere, PricewaterhouseCoopers has consistently added jobs in Tampa and other Florida locations. It would not disclose its Tampa hiring, but said during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the firm hired 487 people in Florida.

It lists 142 open positions in Florida, including 98 in Tampa.

.FAST FACTS

The story so far

After hearing from staffers that 1,633 jobs at a Tampa financial firm were at risk of going elsewhere, the Hillsborough County commission and the Tampa City Council approve a subsidy to help keep them. PricewaterhouseCoopers identifies itself as the firm to get the incentives, saying it will sign a lease in a new $78 million building. But an executive says the firm never intended to move existing jobs.

In sudden reversal, PricewaterhouseCoopers drops bid for tax incentives 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 11:59pm]

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