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Incentives keep firms bouncing

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  • | 7:50 a.m. January 20, 2014
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The often-warped logic of economic incentives to lure businesses to town is front and center yet again.

The latest evidence: Sarasota-based RND Automation & Engineering, a fast-growing robotics firm founded by 2013 Business Observer 40 under 40 winner Sean Dotson, plans to move to Manatee County. Actually, it's a move back to Manatee County, where Dotson and some business partners launched the firm in 2005.

Government subsidies aided both moves, first to Sarasota, and now back to Manatee County. In 2010, Sarasota County officials doled out $15,000 in performance-based incentives to seal a deal with RND. On Jan. 8, it was Manatee County's turn, when it offered up $8,000 in performance-based incentives for RND in return for eight new jobs over five years.

The kicker: Dotson says the latest move had little to do with county lines and everything to do with finding the right building. The incentives, Dotson tells Coffee Talk, “are nice, but we certainly weren't counting on it. We wanted to find the best building.”

Certainly, $23,000 is a pittance compared to the millions of dollars counties spend every year on economic incentive packages to woo Company X. Still, Dotson isn't the first executive to say incentives aren't a top priority in a move.

What really matters, in addition to the building, is what matters to decision makers at places like Hertz, Amazon and USAA — all of which recently announced major Gulf Coast expansions or relocations. Those are factors such as workforce, low taxes, climate and access to major airports. Yet government officials topple over each other just for the chance to dangle tax breaks and incentives.

RND, regardless of the incentives, is nonetheless a company on the move — and not just to a different county. The 12-employee firm, which designs and builds robotic manufacturing equipment, had about $3 million in 2013 sales, says Dotson, and he expects to reach $3.5 million in 2014. Clients include manufacturers of contact lenses, hydraulic valves and automotive sensors.

The company's new home will be in the SRQ Tech Park in south Manatee County. The 12,000-square-foot space is nearly double RND's Sarasota facility. Dotson looked for a suitable building, to lease or buy, for more than a year. He toured at least 20 properties, though he never considered leaving the region, where most of RND's clients reside.

Says Dotson: “We believe being located in the Bradenton-Sarasota-Tampa Bay region is one reason our business has seen double-digit growth for the last few years.”


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