Richard Chapman

The Kern County Board of Supervisors last week approved a new and innovative economic development incentive program that will position Kern County to compete globally for new business investment and to retain and grow existing businesses.

The move will bolster overall job creation and will pave the way for our region to make the “short list” for new business development opportunities that were previously out of our reach because Kern County did not have a competitive incentive program.

This new program just might be the game-changer Kern County needed to garner the attention of key players in the site selection industry. More than half of corporate site selection consultants participating in a 2016 Area Development survey said incentives have “always been of great importance,” and more than a third of them say incentives are even more important now than in the past.

Full details on the plan are available at kedc.com/site-selection/incentives/, and here is an overview of how it will work:

New projects from outside the area — and expansion projects from local businesses — will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Proposals will need to pass a “litmus test” in terms of economic significance in targeted industry sectors. To be considered, a project must retain or create at least 100 new, full-time equivalent jobs or create at least 10 new jobs that pay at least 200 percent of the county’s sustainable wage amount (determined by MIT). Supervisors will have the flexibility to offer tax rebates to selected projects through “back-end” rebates, rather than up-front incentives.

This is an investment that will offer significant returns for Kern County residents. Look at the Fresno region, for example, which stands to gain almost $3 billion in local wage income from the its Amazon fulfillment center project, in exchange for a maximum of $30 million in tax credits. That’s a 100 to 1 return on investment! Other Valley communities (Visalia and Stockton) have also adopted enhanced incentive programs.

California’s current incentives “toolkit” has been significantly weakened with the recent elimination of local redevelopment authorities and enterprise zone programs — previously, some of the most powerful inducements in the nation. Other western states sponsor dozens of incentive programs, while California’s can be counted on just one hand. We, as a community, must take responsibility for our own economic development future.

This program will not just keep business investment in our state, but it will also help propel our local economy by giving businesses another compelling reason to “take a closer look” at Kern County.

Richard D. Chapman is the president and chief executive officer of the Kern Economic Development Corporation.