Questions arise before vote on Forest Rivers tax break request
Posted: 08/10/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Angelle Barbazon
The Elkhart County Council president has been fielding questions since July about the board’s preliminary approval of two tax breaks for Forest River Inc., one of the largest recreational vehicle companies in the county. In exchange for tax phase-ins that span the next eight years, the company plans to add 160 full-time positions in Middlebury and Millersburg. The number of jobs could grow to as many as 445 in other parts of the county in the future, according to the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County. The county council is expected cast a final vote Saturday morning on Forest River’s application.
“Lately, people want to know why we do tax abatements for companies that are competing with the people who are already here,” said Letherman, who estimates the county approves roughly five tax phase-in contracts for companies annually.
The county began offering tax incentives in 2006 to advanced manufacturing and high tech companies wanting to expand in Elkhart County. In 2008, the focus broadened.
“When you have 18 to 20 percent unemployment, that goal out there changes a little bit,” county administrator Tom Byers explained. “The objective becomes about getting people back to work and worrying about the details later.”
The focus of the county’s tax phase-in policy is continuing to change, county commissioner Mike Yoder said. He said it may be time for the county to begin thinking about alternatives to tax abatements. Other incentives, he said, could enhance the quality of life in Elkhart County like offering top-notch educational opportunities and better roads.
The economic environment has become increasingly competitive, Byers noted. He said it is naive to think that other areas are not trying to lure businesses away from Elkhart County.
“Particularly when you’re dealing with companies in this day and age that have plants in eight or 10 different locations scattered in different states and counties, I guarantee you there’s an economic development organization somewhere talking to those folks,” he said. “I think that’s the reality of the game we’re playing.”
Letherman said he places importance in helping established businesses become bigger and better.
“It’s always nice to bring in another company that will diversify the pool of companies and labor, but I think that it’s the government’s and the EDC’s job to encourage the growth and success of companies that are already here,” he said. “They can make the whole community more prosperous.”
This does not mean that the council plans to turn away companies wanting to relocate or set up shop in Elkhart County, Letherman cautioned. Diversification is key, he said.
“I’m not saying that we don’t like the RV business because we sure as heck do,” he said. “But anybody who looks at what we have going on here will agree that some diversification of industry would be a good thing.”