'Time to go build': EDATE referendum easily passes

Matt Algarin

When voters took to the polls Aug. 26, they approved the city's economic development ad valorem tax exemption referendum 1,038 votes to 645.

"EDATE puts us in line with the county and surrounding cities to grow business and to attract new business," City Manager Greg Kisela told The Log. "I commend the EDC, chambers and business community on their efforts to make this happen."

The EDATE program would allow the city to offer tax exemptions to new businesses and expanding businesses in the city of Destin. Tax exemptions can range from 1-100 percent and for a period of 1-10 years.

A potential business must fill out an application, which is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The city will review the businesses economic impact, diversification, and job creation in accordance with the city’s designated target industries and state statutes.

The city’s targeted industries are: professional, scientific and technology services, engineering, financial, information technology and businesses services, light manufacturing, and education, life and health sciences.

To qualify, a business would also have to meet specific requirements pertaining to job creation. This includes the creation of at least 10 full-time jobs for a business that produces items of tangible value, which pays an average wage in that is 110 percent above the average wage in the area. For an office job, there must be at least 50 full-time jobs created. If the project is an expansion, it must meet the previous criteria, as long as it increases operations on a site co-located with a commercial or industrial operation owned by the same business/organization.

Destin Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shane Moody, who has long beat the drum of economic diversification in Destin, told The Log that by adopting EDATE the city now has a great tool to incentivize new businesses to come to Destin, as well as existing businesses to expand.

"The Destin Area Chamber has been pushing economic diversity since the oil spill in 2010," he said. "This community really needs to take economic diversification seriously to expand our job and business base."

Moody said the city doesn't want to abandon its tourism base, but businesses outside of that realm are what will build a year-round economy.

"When you look at the requirements, especially the 110 percent of the average salary in Okaloosa County, we have a tremendous opportunity to build a much stronger business base here," he said. "That means more houses being sold, more sales in our stores, more gas for automobiles — all of that leads to higher tax revenues for the city and the county, which helps address our infrastructure needs."

"We now have the tools, so it's time to go build something."