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Pricewaterhouse Coopers says Tampa positions were not "at risk"

TAMPA — Before city and county officials voted last week to offer $1.2 million to a big financial services firm, they were told the money was needed to keep its jobs in Tampa.

A total of 1,633 jobs were "at risk," city and county officials said.

"That's how it was presented to us, that they were relocating outside of this area," County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said.

Elected officials approved the money, which won't be paid out until well after the firm builds a $78 million building.

On Monday, PricewaterhouseCoopers said it is the business in question, and it had an agreement to move to a new 10-story home in West Shore.

But it also said that, public incentives or not, it never planned to move its operations center, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, out of Tampa.

"We never considered moving those 2,000 jobs out of Tampa," PricewaterhouseCoopers Florida market managing partner Mario de Armas said.

The incentive package was one of many factors in the decision, de Armas said, but as important was Tampa's business environment and the education and stability of the work force.

The incentives from the city and county total $1.2 million. Another $800,000 from the state brings the total to $2 million.

As part of that overall package, local officials had voted in the spring to offer the firm $120,000 to create 200 jobs.

In an interview Monday, de Armas said "the incentives relate to the 200 new employees" the firm is looking at adding.

"Bottom line: If we don't add the 200 new positions and retain them for a certain period, we don't get the incentives," he said. "If we don't build the building, we don't get the incentives."

A July 11 application to the county prepared on behalf of the firm by the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. said the project was about the "retention of 1,633 jobs" and the "creation of 200 new jobs."

Asked why the project needed county support, the application mentioned "competing locations include South Carolina, India, Singapore and Argentina, where generous incentives or cost reductions are available."

On Monday, PricewaterhouseCoopers said those locations are places where it has operations that could be expanded with the 200 new jobs.

But Bruce Register, the county's corporate business development manager, billed the tax giveaway last week as perhaps the first of its kind in the county because about $1 million of the money was going to retain jobs rather than create them.

In recommending that commissioners approve the subsidy, Register told them July 19 that the then-unnamed business would be required to "affirm" existing jobs were "at risk" before the county would award its share of the money.

"If they're going to attest that they're not at-risk, then the eligibility for what we've offered them is in question," Register said Monday. "As in all incentive programs, there's criteria and performance measures that have to be demonstrated before they receive the benefit. This will be no different."

The "at risk" language of the county's application does not mean the same thing as moving out of Tampa, the firm said. It could have stayed on MLK Boulevard with a short-term lease, but that would have created uncertainty that a long-term lease does not.

Under the terms of the deal, neither the city nor the county will pay Pricewaterhouse­Coopers anything for at least six years. That's to ensure the firm builds its building as promised, and delivers on its commitments to create and retain jobs.

Register said his understanding was based on the July 15 letter from the Economic Development Corp., a private group overseen by business leaders that local governments pay to promote job creation.

That letter said the company confirmed July 13 that "should they move forward with the development of a new state-of-the-art building in the Tampa area after considering alternative site scenarios, they would recommit to their future in the Tampa area."

PricewaterhouseCoopers said it signed a 13-year lease with MetLife for a building with about 250,000 square feet of space. Construction is expected to begin this week at the MetWest International corporate park across from Tampa International Airport and International Plaza.

PricewaterhouseCoopers employees are expected to move into the building in the second quarter of 2013.

As they learned more Monday, commissioners and council members had mixed reactions.

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who was out of town when the commission voted on the subsidy, said he wants to hear more about the conditions attached to the arrangement and whether they are being followed.

"There should be no questions when you're spending public money," Sharpe said. "It ought to be letter clear and we need to follow the rules by the letter."

Likewise, City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said, "we can't have the contradictions. I think that definitely will be looked into."

But council member Lisa Montelione, who worked in the county's economic development office, said the agreement has guarantees that ensure the public gets value for its money.

"I think even in hindsight, it was a good decision to make, regardless of how they answered those questions," she said, "although in the future, I would like to see a little more clarity on those applications."

Pricewaterhouse Coopers says Tampa positions were not "at risk" 07/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 12:15am]
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