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Economic incentive ordinance moving forward

Posted: November 16, 2015 5:29 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2015 1:00 a.m.

Those considering opening a business may soon have added reasons to open their doors in the city of Camden.

During its Nov. 10 work session, Camden City Council discussed a proposed ordinance outlining certain incentives the city could grant to businesses seeking to open in the city on a case-by-case basis. As the ordinance reads now, incentives would only be granted via an agreement reached between the city and the applicant. All incentives would be in the form of reimbursements and refunds of fees and taxes; the city would not grant any upfront abatements. The businesses would need to make a minimum investment, would need to increase tourism and would need to create new full time jobs.

Incentives would be determined based on the amount of capital investment, the amount of new revenue directly created, and the number of new jobs created by the development.

The Nov. 10 discussion started with a conversation as to what areas council would want to incentivize. Mayor Tony Scully and councilwomen Laurie Parks and Deborah Davis said they believed the incentives should be available city wide. 

“There is new energy in other areas than just downtown,” Scully said. “We are a small city and we need to grow wherever we can.”

“Why limit it to a specific area?” Parks added. “I think it needs to be available wherever there is opportunity.”

Council members Jeffrey Graham and Alfred Mae Drakeford, however, expressed some reservation with the idea, particularly with the notion of giving incentives in areas such as the area around Exit 98 on I-20 and the shopping centers near the river where such retailers as Walmart are located.

“The purpose of incentives is to get businesses to go where we want them to go,” Graham said. “We have areas that need more help than others. I think if we have incentives everywhere, then there is actually no incentive for them to go places we really want them to go. They will go wherever they want to go.”

More specifically, Graham said, certain businesses are going to go to certain areas, such as the interstate corridor, regardless of what the city does or does not do because that is where the traffic and exposure they need is going to be. 

Drakeford also asked about businesses which are less than desirable.

“What if you have a business you don’t want, but they meet all the criteria,” she said. “Can we turn them down?

Flynn suggested council be specific about what it is trying to accomplish as it drafts the ordinance. He also said some businesses are going to prefer certain areas over others and will operate accordingly. He also said once a threshold has been established and met, it would be difficult to deny the incentive to a business which otherwise qualified just because one member personally disliked it.

Nonetheless, types of businesses are somewhat regulated by zoning ordinances rather than by business incentives, he said.

“The whole purpose of incentives is to locate development where you want it,” Flynn said. “If they’re going somewhere no matter what -- such as the interstate -- then you’re just giving money away.”

Ultimately, council decided to take a couple of approaches to the ordinance. First, they agreed on a general area which would extend north to Dusty Bend, east to the city limits at S.C. 34, west to the Wateree River, and south to Exit 98. However, the incentives themselves will be multi-tiered, based on area, jobs created and level of investment. Areas closer to downtown and Dusty Bend may require a lower threshold of investment to qualify; areas farther out would require higher levels of investment.

Ultimately, the purpose of the ordinance is to show the business community that the city is making a commitment to be more business friendly, City Manager Mel Pearson said. 

“The fact that you offer an incentive is more important than an actual dollar amount,” Pearson said. “It shows you want the city to be a player.”

Pearson said he would take council’s comments back to staff and would have a revised ordinance ready for first reading consideration at council’s Nov. 24 meeting.

In opther business, council:

• heard a presentation from Assistant to the City Manager Caitlin Corbett and Tourism Director Suzi Sale regarding the city’s wayfinding sign project; and

• passed proclamations designating Dec. 1 as World Aids Day, the week of Nov. 15-21 as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and November as National Adoption Month in the city of Camden.

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