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Site selector: Sarasota made 'big mistake'

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  • | 10:00 a.m. May 27, 2016
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One of Florida's leading site selection executives — a former state official who oversaw the deal that brought the Hertz corporate headquarters to Lee County — has harsh words for Sarasota.

The executive, Rob Sitterley, specifically says county commissioners made “a big mistake” when it rejected a proposal to use $720,000 in public funds to help lure a national roofing company headquarters to town. The commission voted 4-1 May 24 to turn down the proposal, under the codename Project Mulligan. If approved, the company, unnamed in public documents, would have been eligible for more than $1.5 million in state and local subsidies in return for 180 jobs over six years.

Commissioners were partially swayed by a vocal group of builders, contractors and roofers who opposed the project. That side's position: Using public money to woo a business in an industry that already struggles to find employees would be a bigger mistake than missing a corporate headquarters opportunity.

Al Singleton with Sarasota-based Alvin J. Singleton Roofing Contractors, for example, told commissioners that approving the incentives would be a slap in the face to him and his peers. “We didn't get any economic incentives when the economy was down,” says Singleton, one of about 20 people to oppose the project publicly at the meeting. “This wouldn't be economic development. It would be economic movement.”

But Sitterley, who works out of the Orlando office of Gainesville, Texas-based Merit Advisors, which represents the company behind Project Mulligan, says opposition forces were misinformed about the project. The jobs, he says, were for corporate office work, not in the field, so there wouldn't be any poaching. The company, adds Sitterley, agreed to submit to written clauses that would hold it to not hiring local people.

“Today's vote is a no for economic development in Sarasota County,” Sitterley told the Business Observer after the vote. “Sarasota's vote says 'OK, we don't want to play in the area of corporate headquarters.' That makes the area not at all competitive.”

Several county commissioners, in discussion before the vote, acknowledged that sentiment would likely come their way. But they disagreed with the premise. The vote, according to two county commissioners, was based on flaws in the process, not against the idea of using incentives, in general, to lure a headquarters. “Anybody who says this isn't a welcoming community based on this vote,” says County Commission Chairman Alan Maio, “I would personally push back on that.”

Sitterley, who worked on 420 economic development projects under former Gov. Charlie Crist and current Gov. Rick Scott, says the damage to Sarasota's reputation is likely already done. He says like in any industry, word travels fast in site selection.

On the national roofing company, Sitterley says it will continue to look for a new corporate headquarters, possibly in Georgia or North Carolina. Moving expenses, he adds, even for a company with more than $100 million in annual sales, like this one, are too large to not seek out financial assistance. “We have other options,” says Sitterley, “that will help subsidize that.”


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