Thursday, April 26, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: While luring Bass Pro Shops, don't forget the little fish

Of this much we can be pretty certain. It appears people who like to fish are just as certifiably obsessively nutso as golfers when it comes to constantly searching for the next piece of equipment that will unlock the mysteries of succeeding in their chosen waste of time.

So what might we call this? The Skakedown of the Ancient Mariner?

Ergo the proliferation of all manner of retailers offering the next big thing to take to the seas in the quest for the big one.

But in the elusive hunt for the catch of the day, it would seem the biggest winner could be Bass Pro Shops, which could be on the cusp of reeling in $15 million in publicly subsidized incentives to build one of its megachain stores in Hillsborough County.

Say, that's no small amount of chum.

If the deal comes off, Bass Pro Shops will construct a 475,000-square-foot complex just off of Interstate 75 across from the Westfield Brandon mall, thus providing yet one more reason to avoid Brandon's world famous gridlock on crack.

To be sure, this looks like a swell deal for Bass Pro Shops, which says it will create more than 1,500 temporary construction jobs and as many as 369 full-time jobs selling weird fishing stuff.

Very nice. But at what cost?

I'll confess to being naively ignorant of the ways of big business. But I don't grasp something, which I've been failing to grasp for many years, most notably when the big shots of Hillsborough County all agreed to give bazillionaire Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his rug rats, Zippity and Do Da, a free taxpayer-funded football field, Hellooooo Sucker Stadium.

And it is simply this: Why are county officials contemplating forking over $15 million in public subsidies to a Fortune 500 company with annual revenues of nearly $4 billion to build an immensely profitable store that will pull in an estimated $61.8 million in sales once all those people in search of fake worms start rushing through the doors?

Yes, the jobs are peachy. We all want more jobs in Hillsborough County. But what about the lost jobs, the lost revenues, the lost small businesses of other angler-related companies that will now not only have to compete with Bass Pro Shops, but also lose out on government underwritten incentives to help their bottom line?

The economy is already tough enough without the ham-thumbed digit of government weighing down the scales against the little guy.

We hear all the time how the small business owner is the true backbone of the American economy. And it is — until Bass Pro Shops comes to town and casts a wide net over the public exchequer.

If you are a small business owner, you try showing up at the county commission and ask for tax breaks, or a widening of the road in front of your establishment, or some other enhancement and what do you think will happen? Cue the laugh track.

This is hardly a knock on Bass Pro Shops. Look, if local government wants to hand over $15 million to lure the company here, Bass Pro Shops executives would be remiss in not taking the money and running.

You don't get to be a Fortune 500 company by walking away from free moola.

But if Hillsborough County government is going to suddenly get all Daddy Warbucks and start throwing money at Bass Pro Shops, it should also provide some tax breaks and business redevelopment monies for the smaller merchants most filleted by the deal.

From the perspective of sitting on the dock of the bay — that's only fair.

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