Lee commissioners approve $4M in incentives for secret company

Lee commissioners approve $4M in incentives for secret company

By Colleen Hogan. CREATED Apr 30, 2013

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - The Lee Board of County Commissioners voted all in favor to award a $4 million grant to an unnamed Fortune 500 company to relocate here.

"I think this sends a clear signal to this Fortune 500 corporation that they have so far, smooth sailing," commissioner John Manning said. 

The company is playing Lee County against a county in Oklahoma to relocate. It has pledged to potentially bring 700 jobs with an average wage of $102,000 a year. It also plans to build a gigantic, 300,000 sq. ft. headquarters in Lee County costing almost $70 million.

In return, the county will offer $4 million in incentives, with the state pledging to kick in potentially upwards of $10 million to sweeten the deal. Commissioners admitted during the meeting, some of these taxpayer-subsidized deals have gone wrong in the past, with millions lost or at risk. 

"What kind of a precedent does this set for other companies that might come to Lee County, under a cloud of anonymity, asking for taxpayer money?" Hogan asked Jim Moore, director of the Ft. Myers Regional Partnership.

"Unless the (state) law changes, they will have confidentiality if they ask for it," he said.

Moore says this type of arrangement is allowed by state law to protect the company's privacy during negotiations.

"Considering this is a Fortune 500 company - obviously we'd love to have them in Lee County - but a company of this stature - why do they need $4 million of taxpayer money if they could afford to come here on their own?" Hogan asked Moore. 

"Well, I would just turn it around on you," he countered.  "Why does Fox 4 try to buy cameras as cheaply as they can? It's good business to keep your costs down."

Officials with the Ft. Myers Regional Partnership say the incentives keep Lee County in the game with negotiations.

They also point to a local study done by FGCU citing a study that shows a $300 million dollar return to the local economy. 

"Their future is bright, they have been growing at a nice rate," Moore said. "Their prospects are good and that implies, our prospects are good."

The deal would be structured so this mystery company would have to shell out major cash - $46 million on its' end in buildings and land - and at least 300 jobs before taxpayers would give them the first $2 million payment.

The name of the company and its decision could be made public by the first week of May.

Colleen Hogan, reporter