Oldsmar softens tone on Nielsen

Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker said Nielsen is “very sensitive about what’s going on.”

Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker said Nielsen is “very sensitive about what’s going on.”

OLDSMAR — In the wake of recent layoffs, Oldsmar officials continue to meet with top executives of the Nielsen Co. to make sure the city gets its money's worth for the incentives it has paid to create high-wage jobs.

But there's a new tone to the City Council's discussions.

Gone are statements like, "to think they have the gall to take taxpayers' money and then lay people off," as council member Suzanne Vale said in April.

And in their place is a spoken appreciation of the company's place in the global economy — and Oldsmar's.

"It's a global company," Mayor Jim Ronecker said last week at a city workshop. "It's not all about America anymore, and we're right in the middle of it."

At a City Council meeting Tuesday night, Ronecker said the city is negotiating an agreement with Nielsen that could be completed within seven to 10 days. But Nielsen has asked that the terms remain confidential in the meantime, he said.

Oldsmar has paid $554,000 of the $3.1-million the Nielsen Co. has received over the past six years to create new jobs in Pinellas County.

In the past, Ronecker has said he would seek to remove some of the ambiguities in the city's incentive contracts with Nielsen.

One item of concern has been the company's use of contract employees.

Nielsen executives have said contracted employees, like those from India-based Tata Consultancy Services working in Oldsmar now, were included in Nielsen's application for a 2007 tax refund under Florida's Qualified Target Industry program. When approved, that refund will be Oldsmar's last payment under the contract.

But the city's obligations under a second grant, from the Pinellas County Job Creation Incentive program, will continue through 2013. And that grant allows positions filled by outside contractors to be counted toward job creation goals.

County officials and Nielsen say contracted workers have not been included in the count of high-wage jobs that the county grant supports. A payment of $144,712 — half the real estate taxes Nielsen paid to Oldsmar in 2007 — is being processed for payment through the county grant.

At a City Council workshop June 10, Ronecker, City Manager Bruce Haddock, a chamber of commerce official and other council members discussed in general terms recent talks they have had with Nielsen representatives.

"They haven't done anything wrong as far as we're concerned," Ronecker said. "I'm trying to protect us in the future."

He said discussions have been candid, and he's optimistic about the outcome. But he asked council members to be careful about how they speak to reporters.

"They are very sensitive about what's going on right now," he said of Nielsen. "They are getting abuse from their customers when they see it in the papers."

Haddock said Nielsen is the biggest employer in Oldsmar and one of the city's biggest taxpayers.

"I don't think they have any intention of leaving Oldsmar at this point," he said, but the company is consolidating operations all over the world and might expand in Oldsmar if they feel welcome.

Haddock said Nielsen doesn't operate with an American perspective and never will. His advice for Oldsmar is to accept that fact and say:

"We welcome multinational and global operations, too. If you come here, you're welcome."

Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce president Jerry Custin also has met with Nielsen executives. He said they admit that Nielsen needs to do a better job of explaining its actions to the local community.

"They are directing their staff to get out in the community even more than they have," said Custin, and the chamber will help with that.

Another plea for caution came from council member Eric Seidel, who is concerned that members of any particular ethnic group, like the TCS employees from India, feel welcome in Oldsmar.

"We probably should be very mindful of giving the perception that here in Oldsmar, if you don't look like us, we don't welcome you," he said.

"I don't believe that's the way any of us feel – it's very small-townish."

"But we are small-town," Council member Janice Miller said.

"We're a small community," Seidel said. But he maintained Oldsmar is different from other small towns, "in part because of where we are located and in part because of the amount of business we have here."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Oldsmar softens tone on Nielsen 06/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 1:39pm]

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