Hillsborough County is in the running for a new Amazon assembly and distribution center that would create 1,000 permanent jobs, with about a third of those positions paying well above Florida's average wage.
Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he had reached a deal to bring the online retail giant to Florida where it seeks to invest $300 million and create 3,000 jobs.
Hillsborough County officials followed Scott's announcement with news the company is considering building a 1 million-square-foot “fulfillment center” in the South Shore Corporate Park, at Interstate 75 and State Road 674 in the Sun City Center-Wimauma area.
According to the county, Amazon's project would create 375 new jobs paying an average of $47,581 a year, 15 percent above Florida's average wage. Those jobs would meet the requirements for the state's “qualified target industries incentive,” giving Amazon $3,000 per employee in public money. The county would pay 20 percent, or $600 an employee.
The incentive payments would be made in four equal installments over four years, said Ron Barton, the county's director of Economic Development.
“That's how we protect the taxpayer on the incentive payments because we never get ahead of them,” Barton said. “Let's say they laid off everybody the next year and we terminate the program. We're only out one-fourth of the payments of the jobs for the first year.”
The county commission will consider granting the incentives at its Wednesday meeting. On July 17, commissioners will consider granting Amazon a property tax break worth about $910,000 a year for seven years. That's half of what the company would normally pay in property taxes on its $200 million investment.
“All you're doing is foregoing half the county's share for seven years,” Barton said. “We think that's a strong return on investment.”
Overall, Amazon plans to create 3,000 full-time jobs with benefits and build more than $300 million worth of new warehouses in Florida, Scott announced, saying Amazon would complete its move here by the end of 2016.
“Amazon's commitment … is further proof that we've turned our economy around,” Scott said in a statement.
“Amazon will continue to work with Enterprise Florida on its ongoing projects which will include a return on any taxpayer investment,” he said. “We look forward to the company's announcements as it chooses locations and creates jobs in Florida.”
Enterprise Florida is the public-private partnership that serves as the state's economic development organization. Its spokesman wasn't immediately available, and the governor's press office declined further comment.
Amazon spokesman Ty Rogers declined to elaborate, referring a reporter to the statement issued by the governor's office.
“We thank Governor Scott for his commitment to creating jobs in Florida,” Paul Misener, Amazon vice president of global public policy, said in that statement.
Last month, Scott rejected a deal to bring Amazon to the state because the move would require its Florida customers to start paying sales taxes on Internet purchases.
In the past, Florida lawmakers have sought to collect sales taxes from online purchases but the move went nowhere; under commerce laws, collections are only allowed if a company has a physical presence in a state.
Many political observers suggested Scott didn't want to appear to be raising taxes while he is seeking re-election in 2014.
However, action in Washington may take the decision out of Scott's hands. Congress is considering a law called the Marketplace Fairness Act that would allow states to require retailers to collect taxes on Internet and catalog sales even if they have no physical presence in a state.
Misener said in his statement that Amazon will “work toward enactment of the federal Marketplace Fairness Act, which will protect states' rights to make their own revenue policy choices.”
Scott said “Amazon will begin collecting Florida sales tax at such time as it is required under current Florida law.”
The earliest that would be is at some point after next spring's legislative session, and that's if lawmakers decide to pass an internet sales tax bill. Past attempts have failed.
Also unclear is where in the state Amazon would build its new warehouses. Barton said Hillsborough is competing with multiple locations throughout the state.
“The availability of economic development incentives will be a material factor in any final location decisions,” Scott said in his statement.