City leaders closing in on target industries for economic development

Matt Algarin

With a renewed focus on economic development and diversifying the economy in Destin, city leaders want to identify specific, targeted industries where ad valorem tax breaks could be offered.

"This isn't about being business friendly, this is about economic development and growing the pie," Councilman Jim Bagby told The Log Thursday. "You need to target those industries that you think fit well with your vision, your community and your future."

What began with a list of five industries was quickly whittled down to three after councilors debated the merits of two items, which they considered "vague." The approved list of targeted industries includes professional, scientific and technology services; light manufacturing; and education, life services and health services.

By offering ad valorem tax breaks, the city, who worked with the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County and the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, is attempting to encourage businesses to come to Destin, or for existing businesses in the city to expand and add more jobs.

The key though is to try and attract new businesses that wouldn't directly compete with companies that already call the city home. High-tech, high-wage jobs would be the ideal candidates based on past discussions.

"If you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to everybody," Bagby said.

Okaloosa County Commissioners are currently going through the process of renewing their ad valorem tax exemption process, which will also go before voters via an August referendum.

County officials recently used the tax exemption for project UpUnder, which is a potential Destin-based company that is expected to start with 67 jobs and grow to a workforce of 350 within five years. The company would be exempt from tangible personal property taxes and real property taxes for 10 years. The exemption would total an estimated $316,304.

Before the city can adopt a list of targeted industries, Destin residents would have to approve the measure via a referendum in August 2014. So between now and then, the city's staff must draft and ordinance and ballot language.