Show them the money: Building SC business with incentives

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Wednesday's Bridgestone expansion announcment in Graniteville is being hailed as a much needed economic boost as the state's jobless rate has climbed to 11.1 percent, fourth highest in the nation.

Bridgestone Americas officials say the deal will generate 850 jobs and pump $1.2 billion into South Carolina's economy, the largest intial capital investment in state history.

"It's particularly gratifying that we could do it here in Aiken County, South Carolina where the county and state as well could always use this kind of economic boost," said Gary Garfield, CEO & President of Bridgestone Americas, Inc.

Bridgestone's expansion plan at the company's existing facility, is just the latest in a string of high-profile, high-dollar employment deals in South Carolina over the past two years.

The Bridgestone investment eclipses Boeing's $750 million commitment to the state, though the aerospace giant also promised 3,800 jobs at its North Charleston facility. However, the sizable incentives package, totaling hundreds of millions from the state, that helped land Boeing was highly criticized. A portion of those incentives were tied to property tax breaks.

The Bridgestone deal also carries some incentives, though not nearly as much as the Boeing deal. The state Commerce Department approved $15 million, most of it going to public road improvements near the Bridgestone job site.

"Bottom line is we provided infrastructure. They needed roads, they needed site prep and we didn't want them to have any issues putting in the plant," said Governor Nikki Haley when asked about the incentives following Wednesday's announcment. "We want them to be able to move these tires and we made sure that was possible."

This past spring, Haley lashed out against an incentives deal, though one with a much different structure, for online retail giant Amazon. The deal brokered by state commerce officials during the Sanford administration, promised Amazon a five-year exemption from collecting sales tax from online shoppers in South Carolina.

The debate over the Lexington County distribution center nearly cost the region 2,000 jobs and split a community.

Opponents argued the sales tax break did not create a level playing field for other Midlands retailers and small businesses.

"If you were to go down to the Mom and Pop on Main Street and purchase a t-shirt or a hat you're going to pay sales tax to the retailer. We just want Amazon to play by the same rules," said Brian Flynn of the SC Main Street Alliance in April 2011.

Read more Bridgestone expansion to bring 850+ jobs, $1.2 billion to struggling SC economy Gov. Haley praises Boeing grand opening days after declining to sign Amazon incentives Amazon sales tax deal moves to Haley's desk

Some local leaders clashed with opponents on the issue, countering that argument by saying the health of local businesses would be improved through job creation.

"It's actually going to feed our small businesses in the Lexington and Midlands area because of the salaries and income that's made from compensation from Amazon employees," argued Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre in April 2011.

Amazon officials cancelled contracts on facility preps after lawmakers initially shot down the sales tax deal. They got back on board in June, promising even more jobs when a group of legislators pushed for a second vote and approved the measure.

There were no such theatrics involved in the Bridgestone announcement in Aiken County as the company looks to get their tire production rolling and people there back to work.

Bridgestone breaks ground on their new facility next month, meaning construction jobs there will be generated immediately.

Do you think state officials should use financial incentives to lure business to South Carolina?