Buildings, incentives eyed for businesses
Thursday, the MDD board adopted a far-ranging economic development plan for Rockdale, which of course is still coping with the loss of more than 1,000 jobs from the closing of Alcoa’s smelter in 2008-09.
The plan, presented by Tom Manskey, MDD executive director, lists some bold steps including constructing a 7,500 to 10,000-square foot speculative building in Rockdale Business Park, a “business incubator” location downtown and sales tax rebates/property tax abatements for new businesses.
What shape some of those proposals might take in the future would require coordination with city and county governments, existing businesses and the residents of Rockdale.
INCUBATOR—Manskey sees a downtown “incubator” as a building purchased by the MDD, which then offers cubicles at reduced rent to entrepreneurs who would be given the chance to make a business work.
“We’re not talking forever, and we’re not talking about something that would undercut current businesses,” he said. “We’re talking about giving people a chance.”
Manskey envisions the businesses sharing a receptionist. “Of course, the ultimate goal is that their business plan works, they move out of the incubator, start paying the market rent, grow and hire more employees,” he said. “Then you’ve created jobs and grown the economy.”
SPEC BUILDING—The proposed speculative building for the industrial park, just north of the city limits on FM 487, could attract a “full-blown” business to Rockdale.
“Right now, for this area, buildings of 5,000 to 15,000 square feet are very desirable,” he said. “Building one would certainly give us something to offer.”
RETAIN—But, Manskey noted the strategic plan is focused not only on attracting new businesses to Rockdale, but also on retaining and expanding, existing businesses.
The MDD, created by Rockdale voters in 2010, is funded by collection of a half-cent sales tax which formerly went to support Richards Memorial Hospital.
Highlights of the plan’s five sections include:
Retention and expansion of existing businesses
• Visit two Rockdale businesses each month (for input) and include a community leader in each visit.
• Collect date, including number of employees, future plans for growth or downsizing, assistance needed, future building needs.
New and small business development
• Annual survey to see what businesses are most likely to be supported.
• Develop a business incubator in downtown Rockdale.
• 12-month sales tax rebate for new businesses.
• One-year property tax abatement for building owners that locate a new business in their facility.
Targeted marketing and attraction of new businesses
• Negotiate with Chamber of Commerce and City of Rockdale for control of approximately 170 acres of land in business park.
• Re-plat both parcels as one large park with multiple 5 to 25-acre parcels for development.
• Constructa7,500to 10,000-square-foot speculative building in the business park.
Incentives and infrastructure
• Tax abatement or phase-in.
• Sales tax rebate.
• Building facade rehabilitation grant program.
• Free or reduced-cost land program.
Improved quality of place
• Complete downtown master plan.
• Explore funding options to make Patterson Center improvements.
• Create a “ Young Emerging Leaders” program for 20 to 40-year-olds.
MDD MEETING—During Thursday’s MDD session board member Collier Perry noted he had spent more than $1,000 of his own money on engineering and attorney fees in an attempt to attract “Project Zephyr” to the site of Alcoa’s Rockdale Operations.
“This was before the announcement the LCRA was attempting to purchase the land,” Manskey said.
Manskey said there was believed to be some interest in a “clean coal” operation.
The b0ard took no action.
GRANT—Board members took no action on a request for a $30,000 grant by the Kay Theatre Foundation.
“Main concern was in the sustainability of the project,” Manskey said. “They requested more information.”
The request was presented to the MDD by Les Davenport, chairman of the Kay Theatre Foundation.