PALMETTO - A new process being worked out is starting to bear fruit for Port Manatee, executive director David McDonald told the Port Authority on Thursday.
"The packages that you have put in place have already started to create movement in the business world," he said. "It's not ready to be announced yet, but there are negotiations ongoing that would be able to take advantage of the encouragement zone."
Coming up with a definition of a "port-related business" might not be the right approach, said chairman Ron Getman. "The more we get into the matter, the process becomes more important than the definition," he said.
One definition is just not applicable for all uses of the port, Getman noted.
"It is my opinion that we should not put the port in a narrowly constrained box and perhaps a disadvantage by deciding on a specific definition," he said. "Instead, we should allow for leeway by determining what benefit the port will receive from the applicant business on a case-by-case basis."
McDonald said that it's important for businesses considering coming to the port and bringing jobs to see the port and the county working together, and that there's a seamless transition from the port to their facilities across the street.
He said something would come before the board in the next couple of months.
Getman defined the steps of the process:
The port director will receive and review any application from a business that would like to consider applying for a facility that it wants to build in the port Encouragement Zone.
If the port director determines that the business will provide a benefit to the port, the definition of benefit including quality jobs and significant revenue to the port, as decided by the port director, then the director will set up a meeting with the county administrator to discuss the applicant. The meeting will be to obtain agreement from the county administrator and staff that the business is suitable for benefits provided by the EZ and a determination will be made about whether the business qualifies for any other incentives from the county and state as a package.
Once agreed, the package would be presented to each board for approval. Upon approval, the port director will tell the applicant of the results, and provide a contact person from the port to be a mentor for the process with the port.
The county administrator would appoint a person to walk the business through the county portion of the process. By doing this, he said, we protect the port's business endeavors and can agree with county staff that the business fits there.
A process is vital to the encouragement zone's success, McDonald said.
"Business comes in and wants to know, one, you can do business at the port, and two, it's got that same attitude from the county to find ways to bring them in and anchor them here, and ultimately bring those jobs to Manatee County," he said.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said, "We think we have a process that is workable."
The process shows that the county is interested in bringing businesses to the area, Authority member Joe McClash said, adding that development of regional impact exemptions are a land use and not a port issue.
"I just want to be able to give certainty to a business, to say, 'Look, you have this DRI exemption area, and you qualify because of this,'" he said.
Deputy County Attorney Bill Clague said the question needs to be dealt with at the County Commission because it's controlled by state statute.
"We can only give as much certainly as the Legislature has provided to us under that statute," he said. "Our office is working on that issue so that we can give you the best advice we can with the material that was given to us by the state."
Member Carol Whitmore said the moves will make the area more attractive for companies. "I just want to attract business," she said.
McClash made the motion to put the new Port Authority process to the County Commission, and it passed 7-0.
McDonald said he was satisfied, and would meet with members of the encouragement zone to tell them what's going on.
"We will continue to work together on this issue," he said.