TAMPA — Now that Hillsborough County has launched a program to help small businesses that create jobs, new Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione wonders: Why not us?
"Our smaller businesses do need the help," said Montelione, whose private-sector experience includes working with her fiance's three-person construction firm. "The challenge is finding the funds."
Council members are expected to discuss the idea at a workshop on Thursday, though Montelione already has brought it up with members of Mayor Bob Buckhorn's administration. City officials need to look at the idea in more detail before deciding whether to add it to Buckhorn's economic development agenda, Tampa economic development administrator Mark Huey said.
"The city certainly could do a program like that," Huey said. "It's really a matter of resource priority and would that be the best thing for us to do at this time, given the economic development challenges and opportunities that we have."
Hillsborough County started its Small Business Job Creation Program this spring as commissioners discussed a way to exempt some property taxes for businesses that expand or move to the county. (Tampa has a similar property tax exemption program, approved by voters in March, in the works.)
Along with the property tax breaks, Commissioner Sandy Murman was interested in giving incentives to the smallest businesses that might be on the verge of adding employees.
"With unemployment hovering around 11, 12 percent, there's obviously a great need for jobs in our community," said Gene Gray, the county's director of economic development.
Miami-Dade has a similar program, but there's nothing else like Hillsborough's program in the Tampa Bay area, Gray said.
Hillsborough's program pays companies with 10 or fewer workers partial wage reimbursements for adding up to three more employees.
To receive the reimbursement, the businesses must keep the new employees for at least three months. At the end of that time, the companies can get half of what they paid their new hires, up to $3,900 per worker.
To qualify, the companies must be based in the county, must have been in business for at least two years and must agree to participate in county programs designed to foster the growth and health of small businesses. Their new employees also must be county residents.
To pay for the program, Hillsborough officials identified $500,000 that had been set aside in a pool for industry promotion.
As of mid May, 26 businesses had submitted applications for 59 new employees. Gray said the program has the funds to provide partial reimbursement for about 200 employees.
Along with the jobs program, Montelione said, her priorities include helping save the city money by getting city-owned facilities to switch over to energy-efficient technology.
"We have to bring down costs," and being more energy-efficient is one way to do that, she said. "It used to be, 'Oh, you're green. You're sustainable. You're a tree hugger.' No, it's about saving money."
As a start, Montelione said she was pleased to see the city install a motion-sensitive control for her office lights. The bad news: It doesn't turn off the lights for half an hour.
"I don't need my office lit for half an hour after I've left it," she said. "Ten minutes is probably even too long."
As for the jobs program, "It's no surprise that funding is very tight around here," Montelione said, "so I don't know how we can make it work, but if we can find a way …"
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.