At the BOCC meeting held Tuesday, December 14, County Commissioners debated whether to approve new and significant incentives designed to reward Topline Automotive Engineering, Inc. for its planned consolidation and relocation of out-of-state assets that would bring high-paying jobs to the county. Topline is a leading supplier of automotive parts for foreign and domestic models that operates distribution centers in the U.S. and Canada, including a 210,000 SF facility the company built in 2009 which is located at 2251 Topline Way, in the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport rail park. The company also markets Topline Hy-Lift Johnson patented engine lifters.
Topline’s consolidation plans include consolidating and relocating its locations in Michigan and Illinois to Brooksville. The consolidation would create 60 new manufacturing jobs over a period of three years that pay 125% of the county’s average annual wage (AAW) of $45,936. The company also expects to spend approximately $8.6 million for capital investment.
Specifically, the new jobs incentive proposal discussed would see the county pay Topline $6,200 per new job created at 125% of the county’s AAW payable over a period of five years. The county would also defer an estimated $30,000 in Permit and Review fees over a seven-year period for a total cost of $402,000 spread over the seven-year agreement. Hernando Economic Director Valerie Pianta told commissioners the funding was covered in existing economic development incentive funds.
“They’re taking these jobs from Illinois and Michigan – if we can take business from both of those states, that’s great. They can move to Florida and pay taxes here – that’s a positive,” said Commissioner Chair Steve Champion.
Pianta, who presented the incentive agreement, seemed to have commissioners on board until the conversation turned to a proposed ground lease agreement. A proposed Second Amendment to the current Ground Lease Agreement with Topline did not produce a consensus. While reducing the size of Topline’s leasehold for property located at the rail park from 14 acres to about nine was not a deal-breaker, the agreement as it was proposed would have also given Topline the right of first refusal over the remaining acreage.
“The proposed agreement that calls for the county to give up the right is very dangerous,” said Champion, who indicated he would not vote for the “right of first refusal’ portion of the lease reduction amendment, adding that it could lead to the county being “undercut.”
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb agreed with Champion’s analysis that such an agreement would give Topline too much control over the potential lease of county property. For her part, Commissioner Elizabeth Narverud said “I don’t think it’s the right way to handle that property.”
Just when things started going south, Topline CEO and founder Chet Staron, who was present, spoke from the guest podium and said that the company did not need the approximately five acres but would not require the “first right of refusal” which set the commissioners back on course for consensus.
The proposal will be redrafted to exclude the “first right of refusal” and then go back to the BOCC for approval.