Official: Houston’s prosperity brings problems

Sometimes prosperity can come with drawbacks.

Last month, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs gave Houston County a tier 4 designation, meaning it is considered one of the most prosperous counties in the state.

It also means less state tax incentives when creating jobs in the industrial sector.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Morgan Law, executive director of the Houston County Development Authority.

However, Houston County officials already were proactively seeking ways to provide the state incentives to a greater extent while maintaining their status.

As it stands now, any new or existing industrial company within the county would have to create 25 jobs to qualify for a $750 tax credit per job.

However, with the help of the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center, Law said the county is looking at creating opportunity zones within its municipalities and unincorporated areas.

Those zones would be separate from any state tier designation.

Opportunity zones are made up of census tracts with a poverty concentration of 15 percent or greater. Areas adjacent to the census tract also qualify to be in the opportunity zone. Laura Mathis, director of public administration for Middle Georgia Regional Development Center, said Houston County has a lot of eligible land.

Businesses within an opportunity zone only need to create two jobs to receive a credit of $3,500 per job — similar to the incentive received by tier 2 counties. Also, unlike the statutory incentives in the Georgia Tax Credit Law, any type of business can apply for the credit. “The opportunity zone helps put the county on the same playing field as those most economically distressed,” Mathis said.

Mathis said the ability to provide the statutory credit can be a deciding factor in some instances.

“If it’s a company looking at a tier 4 county next door to a tier 1, this job tax credit could make them choose one over the other,” she said.

The county is admittedly following the example of Perry, one of its incorporated entities.

In November, the Perry City Council approved and submitted a redevelopment plan incorporating much of Perry as an opportunity zone. Now, officials are waiting for state approval.

At the time, Houston County was at tier 3, but Perry City Manager Lee Gilmour said the city recognized there were areas that would have normally qualified for the tier 1 status. With that in mind, Gilmour said the city aimed to boost business and create more jobs, and tax credits play an important role in doing that.

“The City Council is well aware we are economically competing against the world so any economic advantage we can provide is important and beneficial,” Gilmour said.

Law said the county could have its application in by the end of the first quarter of this year and added that the county is moving in the right direction.

“The bottom line is the elevation to a tier 4 status is good news for Houston County,” Law said.

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.