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A campaign advertisement mailed in late September for Lee County Commission District 4 incumbent Tammy Hall touts efforts to "RECOVER JOBS," citing "FIRST INITIATIVE — Economic incentive program created over 1,200 high wage jobs since 2009."
Hall, a Republican, is seeking re-election in the Nov. 2, 2010, general election and is challenged by Debbie Jackow, who is running with no party affiliation.
Hall says she is pleased with local government efforts to boost Lee’s economy in southwest Florida, and her campaign piece spotlights that effort along with other claims.
So what about job creation efforts?
In September 2008, Lee commissioners -- including Hall -- approved a plan to set aside $25 million from county reserve funds for economic development efforts.
That fund came to be known as the Financial Incentives for Recruiting Strategic Targets -- or FIRST -- Initiative by the county’s Economic Development Office.
But, has that effort really created 1,200 high wage jobs in about two years as Hall’s campaign message, sent the week of Sept. 27, claims?
Commissioners have voted to award money from the fund to four companies to expand operations here:
• April 2009: Gartner Inc. -- a technology research and advisory company -- received $350,000 from FIRST fund and $1.5 million from other state and local incentive programs. Gartner plans to hire 200 people, starting in 2011 and continuing through 2015. The jobs are expected to have an average annual wage of $60,000.
• June 2009: Paramount Transportation Logistics Services Inc. was given $300,000 from the FIRST fund and $300,000 from other local and state programs to create 100 jobs with an average wage of $48,500 by 2012. About 36 people had been hired by the end of June, the most recent data available.
• July 2009: Source Interlink Cos. -- a magazine publisher and distributor -- receives $1 million from the FIRST fund as part of plan to add 350 jobs by 2011, but the hiring schedule has been revised. The company now expects to begin hiring this year, adding about 50 jobs. The added jobs will have an average annual wage of $65,000.
• February 2010: Algenol Inc. was awarded $10 million in FIRST funds to build a biofuel research facility off Alico Road in south Lee County. Unlike the other incentive agreements, the deal with Algenol is not tied directly to job targets, but the company now employs 67 people. About 30 of those employees have transferred from Baltimore. The center expects to eventually employ more than 100, with an average annual wage of $85,000.
Those numbers add up to about 750 jobs to be created through 2015, but just more than 100 people have been hired so far, according to the latest information from Lee’s Economic Development Office.
So where did Hall get the 1,200 number?
"If you look at the county’s information, those are the jobs being created," Hall said.
But not just by the FIRST funds.
Hall said she asked the Economic Development Office for information on the projects funded through FIRST. She said the numbers she got back apparently reflect all job incentive programs.
"I guess they put everything together," Hall said. "It’s misspoken to say it is all from FIRST, but the numbers are correct."
Lee County constructs incentive agreements using a variety of programs, including the Lee County Job Opportunity Program, which can pay up to $6,000 per full-time job and a similar Florida program, the Qualified Targeted Industry Refund Program, which pays tax refunds of up to $3,000 for each full-time job.
If you include incentive agreements using those programs, the county has announced agreements that total 1,048 jobs through 2015.
About 189 people have been hired so far.
Is a job pledged the same as a job created?
"We are creating those jobs under contract," Hall said. "We are very proud of the progress we have started to achieve.
"I think the message is that we are out there, doing our part as government to allow those jobs to accumulate," she said.
Does "FIRST INITIATIVE -- Economic incentive program created over 1,200 high wage jobs since 2009" accurately convey that message and the facts? The number of jobs created is overstated by about 38 percent and most remain unfilled now. Also, the FIRST INITIATIVE program isn’t the only source of incentive money being used. So we rate this claim False.
Lee County Economic Development Office and its website
Telephone interviews with Tammy Hall, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 2010
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