Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Bexar County commissioners on Tuesday approved a revised version of its economic incentive policies, guidelines that came under fire last fall after the County gave a local credit union $3 million in tax abatements to move downtown.
The new policies up the amount a company must invest to be eligible for tax phase-in incentives, continue the County’s investment in its Innovation Fund, and create a new Skills Development Fund designed to help companies in targeted industries provide employee training and development.
“The tax abatement program has [been] in place since 1987,” said David Marquez, Bexar County's executive director of economic development, presenting the revised policies to the commissioners. “It has helped us recruit and attract tens of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in capital investment. It has always been designed for large corporations or large projects that bring a substantial amount of capital investment.”
The new tax abatement policy increases the minimum investment from $10 million and 100 new full-time jobs, to $100 million and 300 new full-time jobs. It also increases the required minimum hourly wage of those employees from $11.68 to $12.07. Companies that receive a tax abatement must also participate in at least one SA Works Experiential Learning Opportunity.
However, job creation requirements in the tax abatement policy – as in the past – will not apply to central-city, multi-family, market-rate rental housing projects, in keeping with the SA2020 Vision plan.
In January, Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) criticized fellow commissioners for crafting what he called a renewed incentive policy that encourages luxury and market-rate housing rather than mixed-income, affordable housing developments.
“We propose to keep one foot on the gas through 2020,” said Marquez, adding, however, that the County would begin looking into the issue now, “primarily affordable housing.”
Marquez also outlined results of the $870,261 invested during 2016 and 2017 in the Innovation Fund, which he said is responsible for bringing 129 new jobs to the tech corridor, including a chief technology recruitment officer in a partnership with Tech Bloc.
“This is responsive to your request to figure out how ... we make sure our local residents are trained to participate in the good economic growth that’s happening as a result of our policies and programs that have been in place for many years,” Marquez told commissioners. “We have a lot of momentum and inertia, and it’s critical we continue that momentum and broaden the positive impact on companies and individuals that participate.”
The Innovation Fund also financed the startup competition Fuel Tech alongside LiftFund, provided funding for five professional and technical training programs, and helped market San Antonio to the tech industry, most recently at the SXSW Conference in Austin.
Commissioners also approved a new Skill Development Fund, an economic development initiative designed to provide incentives for companies in the high-tech cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing industries.
Companies in these targeted industries that add at least 20 new positions paying no less than the median hourly wage ($17.44) will be eligible for grants up to $1,000 for each of the jobs they create (capped at $250,000). The grant can be used to develop customized workforce training, support instructor certification, and acquire training equipment.
“We are asking companies to tell us who it is they are hiring,” Marquez said of the program. “This will benefit us in terms of gathering data so we know what types of skills people are actually looking for and we can use that to calibrate our workforce development efforts.”