SARASOTA — Sarasota County Commissioners approved a package of performance-based incentives, including $129,000, to help keep mobility device manufacturer Harmar Mobility in Sarasota.
Commissioners approved the funds, which come from the economic development fund (EDIF) and will be paid over 10 years, in a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 24. Commissioners also approved a 10-year exemption from ad valorem taxes for Harmar; both provisions only kick in after the company meets hiring and investment goals. The company’s projected expansion will include 43 manufacturing jobs at an average salary of $58,000, according to a statement.
The move, expected to inject over $2.1 million into the local economy through capital investments, received a full approval vote from the commission for the EDIF incentive and a 4-1 vote for ad valorem exemption. Commissioner Mike Moran made the motion to pass both requests, according to the statement, from the Sarasota County Economic Development Corp.
Harmar manufactures vehicle lifts and stairlifts in its Sarasota County plant and is the largest provider of these products to the Veterans’ Administration, according to a release. Over the past several years, through a combination of acquired products and strong sales growth, the company determined that it needed additional space. It moved its office workers to the new facility last year and recently began moving its manufacturing space.
The release states Harmar CEO Steve Dawson and his leadership team considered relocating to other parts of Florida or Missouri, but ultimately settled on the Sarasota County site, at 1500 Independence Blvd in the Northgate Center Business Park.
EDC Vice President of Business Development Erin Silk noted that the EDC has been working on the project with Harmar since January 2020, helping them apply for and receive a SMART permit, and connected company officials with county staff throughout the permitting process.
EDC also facilitated introductions to CareerSource and CareerEdge to help Harmar find skilled
“We are thrilled to be able to stay in Sarasota and ended up only moving roughly a mile away from our previous location,” says Dawson in the statement. “We have been rapidly expanding and the EDC has been very helpful in supporting our growth.”
“Harmar exemplifies the importance of local business expansions. I am pleased that the EDC could play a role in their plans,” says EDC President and CEO Lisa Krouse. “They were already here, growing and providing good-paying jobs with benefits. It would have (been) a loss to our community for them to go elsewhere. It’s great that they found what they needed in Sarasota County so they can continue to grow and contribute to our local economy.”
The move comes as the EDC faces a county commission that essentially, by a 3-2 vote, made a move to defund the organization. Moran, who brought forth the proposal, which includes redirecting the county’s local business tax to the county’s general fund budget, has long criticized the effectiveness of the EDC. His proposal, voted on at a June 8 meeting, rolls back EDC funding beginning in fiscal year 2022 and phases out funding totally by the end of fiscal 2024. If the EDC shows proven growth and metrics over the next year, commissioners could restore funding.
The EDC was established as an independent agency in 2004 with the goal of sustaining and growing businesses in Sarasota County. However, Moran says that in the past five years, EDC leaders have failed to provide metrics that demonstrate the success of its programs.
Moran proposed the county would remain a dues-paying member of the EDC and could choose to support certain incentives; it just wouldn’t divert taxes to it. In fiscal year 2021, the EDC’s $1.7 million budget included $1.07 million in public funding.