Lake County puts conditions on tax incentives for businesses
While Lake County has offered few incentive packages to businesses looking to locate or expand, a mechanism has been enacted to deal with any requests.
The county board on Tuesday unanimously approved an incentive policy that outlines several conditions, including a measurable return on investment, that must be met before county officials would consider rebating sales or property taxes for a project.
Given the competitive environment, especialy with neighboring Wisconsin, incentives to attract or retain business sometimes are necessary, Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said.
"Are we going to be proactively offering incentives? The answer is no. We want to lead with our strengths," Lawlor said.
Lake County's chief asset is an educated workforce, in which 42 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher, he added.
In 2010, the county was among the taxing bodies that provided incentives worth nearly $1.2 million to land a FedEx Ground distribution center in Grayslake. This past January, county officials approved sales and property rebates of up to $530,000 as part of a $5.8 million state/local package to bring AKHAN Semiconductor Inc. to Gurnee.
Lawlor said the AKHAN pact was an impetus for an official policy, although that agreement is performance-based so there would be no incentives if revenues don't meet objectives. In June, the company said it planned to move its executive team into a Gurnee office.
"We don't want to make these decisions in a vacuum. We want to have a policy of what our priorities are," he said.
The policy lists six guidelines. Among them are that each request: be reviewed individually with consideration to its value; show a "demonstrable" return; and show that the project wouldn't be possible without an incentive.
Requests will be considered only for a new investment or significant expansion, and the incentives have annual reporting requirements, according to the policy.
County board member Ann Maine did not support the AKHAN package. She reiterated her stance Tuesday, saying she is not in favor of incentives.
"I understand why people feel they are necessary. They feel like they have one hand tied behind their back when somebody else does it," Maine said. "I appreciate the fact there is a framework and a guideline. I think that's really important."
Lawlor said there are no incentive requests at this time, but priority would be given to projects that are consistent with the county's strategic plan or economic development strategies. For example, health care, life sciences, pharmaceuticals and advanced manufacturing are among the targeted business types.
"We stress it's a case-by-case basis. We can't just go out and show Kenosha our playbook," he said. "We have to be nimble.