At the BOCC meeting held on Tuesday, December 14, County Commissioners debated whether to approve significant new incentives designed to reward Topline Automotive Engineering, Inc. for its planned consolidation and relocation of assets out of state that would bring good paying jobs to the county. Topline is a leading supplier of automotive parts for domestic and foreign models that operates distribution centers in the US and Canada, including a 210,000-square-foot facility the company built in 2009 and is located at 2251 Topline Way, in the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport Railroad. park. The company also markets patented Topline Hy-Lift Johnson motor lifts.
Topline’s consolidation plans include consolidating and moving its Michigan and Illinois locations to Brooksville. The consolidation would create 60 new manufacturing jobs over a three-year period that pay 125% of the county’s Average Annual Wage (AAW) of $45,936. The company also expects to spend approximately $8.6 million on capital investments.
Specifically, the new job incentive proposal discussed would have the county pay Topline $6,200 for each new job created at 125% of the county’s AAW payable over a five-year period. The county will 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 Chief Financial Officer Valerie Pianta told commissioners the funding was covered by existing economic development incentive funds.
“They’re taking these jobs from Illinois and Michigan; if we can take business from both states, great. They can move to Florida and pay taxes here, that’s a good thing,” said Presiding Commissioner Steve Champion.
Pianta, who filed the incentive agreement, appeared to have commissioners on board until the talk turned to a proposed ground lease agreement. A proposed Second Amendment to the current Land Lease Agreement with Topline did not produce a consensus. While reducing the size of Topline’s lease for the property located in the rail park from 14 acres to about nine was not a deciding factor, the deal, as proposed, would also have given Topline the right of first refusal over the remaining area.
“The proposed agreement that requires the county to waive the right is very dangerous,” said Champion, who indicated he would not vote for the “preemptive right” portion of the rent reduction amendment, adding that it could lead to the county being “undermined”.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb agreed with Champion’s analysis that such a deal would give Topline too much control over the potential lease of the county property. For her part, Commissioner Elizabeth Narverud said, “I don’t think that’s the right way to handle that property.”
Just as things started to go wrong, Topline CEO and founder Chet Staron, who was in attendance, spoke from the guest podium and said the company did not need the roughly five acres but would not require the “first right of refusal.” ” which the commissioners established. back on track for consensus.
The proposal will be redrafted to exclude the “first right of refusal” and will then return to the BOCC for approval.