In many respects, Apex seems like an ideal place to bring a company: It’s near major highways and good schools, and it’s in easy driving distance of major universities.
But until last week, it didn’t have a policy for offering incentives to companies looking to expand or relocate. That’s often enough to take Apex out of the running for new business, said Joanna Helms, Apex’s director of economic development.
Helms said the existence of an incentive policy is as important as that policy’s contents, at least when it comes to getting companies to keep Apex on their list for a second look.
“They just want a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’ ” she said. And if we’re a ‘no,’ we’re out.”
Apex is now a “yes.” Last week, the Town Council adopted a policy in a 4-1 vote that would refund companies 90 percent of the tax growth that expansion or relocation adds to the town’s tax base for three years.
Apex’s minimum threshold for eligibility will be the creation of 20 jobs at 100 percent of Wake County’s average salary – approximately $52,000 – and an investment of at least $3 million in the town. Wake County’s policy sets those numbers higher, at a 50-job minimum and at 120 percent of the average county salary.
Helms and Councilman Bill Jensen, who sits on the town’s economic development committee, both emphasized that simply meeting those thresholds wouldn’t guarantee a tax credit for interested companies. Each incentive would need to be awarded on a case-by-case basis by the Town Council.
The current council majority has shown a desire to rebalance Apex’s growth away from residential and service-industry expansion toward a healthy base of salaried, full-time jobs.
Nearby Fuquay-Varina just used its own incentive policy for the first time since its 2015 adoption. The town awarded $207,500 to detention supplier Bob Barker Co., a five-percent share of a planned $4.15 million warehouse expansion. The expansion will result in the creation of 40 jobs in the next five years. The new positions, warehousing and distribution jobs, will pay an average annual salary of $52,000 to $55,000.
Apex Councilman Gene Schulze cast the lone vote against the incentive policy, saying he disagrees with granting government the authority to subsidize some companies rather than others.
“Choosing companies – which ones you give taxpayer dollars to and which ones you don’t – I think that’s wrong,” Schulze said. “I recognize that by not doing it we’re shorthanded, but philosophically, I think it’s the wrong thing to do.”
Schulze also said he is concerned the policy would encourage companies already seeking to relocate or expand in Apex to pretend they’re looking elsewhere, thereby earning a tax credit for a business decision that would have made sense on its own terms.
“They know how to play that game,” Schulze said.
Helms said that incentive policies like Apex’s typically require that applicants prove the existence of other viable locations that would have been chosen in the absence of the incentive. Even then, a company’s decision to relocate wouldn’t guarantee a tax credit by itself.
“You are not paying upfront money,” Helms said. “It is performance-built, and there will be a written agreement so it is protected. After they pay their taxes, you grant them a portion of that back as a tax credit.”
Councilwoman Denise Wilkie said she sees the measure as a sound investment in creating jobs in Apex.
“I’m fiscally conservative, but I’ll admit you have to spend money to make money,” she said.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan