Friday, January 19, 2018
News Roundup

County may target Brandon for economic development

BRANDON — Hillsborough County wants to label Brandon as a key economic development area and is considering creating a tax-increment finance district to help drive growth, Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

"Brandon has the advantage of a relatively mature business environment, so the greater Brandon area will be one of what we call the economic development spaces that we will be focusing on," Merrill said, speaking at a chamber luncheon. "What that means is, and there will be a few of them identified around the county, we will then be focusing our economic development resources, both people and money, in those areas to leverage an already existing base that's working."

The county hopes to focus on areas it identifies as hotbeds for business innovation and capitalize on the fact that the area is recovering from the recession. This means transportation solutions and redevelopment money, Merrill said. It also means creating tax-increment finance districts for the first time within the county.

Tax-increment areas, already in place in Tampa and Temple Terrace, capture incremental growth from the tax base and redirect it back into that specific area for redevelopment.

"We have long looked at Brandon, especially within the Economic Prosperity (Stakeholder) Committee, as a region that really had potential for development but also for redevelopment," said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who also attended the luncheon. "I think a (tax-increment finance) area or some kind of incentive area, making it a key economic development area, would be such a boost for employment for people who live out there."

Typically, these districts arise after elected officials identify a specific geographic area as blighted or in need of special attention. The retained tax revenue can then act as a tool to address the blight and, hopefully, make it a more inviting place to live or work.

But Murman said the commissioners view these districts as a powerful financing tool. The commissioners are eager to foster growth, and these districts could be one mechanism for encouraging development.

"We're not looking at just blighted areas," Murman said. "We're looking at areas that could help shape our county into just a really fantastic area with just huge corporate growth."

Laura Simpson, president and CEO of the Brandon chamber, said she has seen an energy rising in the community within the last year.

"It was very welcomed for us to hear the administrator, knowing this is a focus of the elected officials as well, designate the Brandon community as a key economic location," Simpson said. "We have been working diligently to make sure we're ready as a community to bring in new industry and new jobs and new catalysts for the local community. The time is right, they're ready to help us and we're ready to receive."

Gains from tax-increment finance districts are reinvested into the immediate area rather than spent in other parts of the county. It often takes several years to raise substantial sums. But once pooled, the tax dollars can kick-start redevelopment efforts.

"That could be additional money for roads, it could be other training programs and other public-private partnerships," Merrill said.

It's not a new tax, Merrill said. Instead, it's taking an existing tax and redirecting it to benefit the area from which it was generated.

Earlier this spring, Hillsborough commissioners voted unanimously to consider creating the so-called tax-increment finance districts in three areas: near the University of South Florida, near the Florida State Fairgrounds and in the neighborhoods of Progress Village, Clair-Mel and Palm River along Causeway Boulevard.

"I had not heard that they were considering Brandon (for a tax-increment finance district)," Simpson said. "I followed up with the office of the county administrator (Tuesday) to see what does that entail. Let's start having the conversation so our community is prepared and informed."

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

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