Council approves enterprise zone program

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The Sealy City Council voted to participate in the Texas Enterprise Zone Program, which will allow Hailiang Copper Texas to qualify for state tax rebates and employment incentives.

The action came during an online meeting Aug. 4 following a public hearing at which several people spoke in favor of Sealy joining the Texas Enterprise Zone Program. Consultant Eric Geisler of Economic Incentive Services led the discussion during the public hearing, explaining how the program works.

“There is no cost to the city or the county for this project. All it requires is a little bit of effort by the city now,” he said.

Geisler said the program allows qualified businesses in the program to receive a tax rebate from the state as long as they meet certain criteria. That criteria includes levels of capital investment within the zone and the creation of a certain number of jobs. Those numbers vary based on the size of the company seeking to be an enterprise zone project. Geisler said a city the size of Sealy qualifies to have six projects every two years. Hailiang Copper Texas would be the city’s first.

The company is currently building a copper tubing manufacturing plant at the site of the former BAE facility off Interstate 10. Michael Jiang, the company’s director of investment, was not able to attend the meeting, but sent a statement to Geisler to have him read speaking in favor of the zone. He reminded the council that financial incentives were “critical to our final decision” to locate in Sealy.

“This is a significant benefit to our overall operation,” he said.

Corbett Parker, attorney and spokesperson for Hendrix Industries, another company locating to Sealy, said tax incentives like the one provided through the enterprise zone program is one of the reasons granite countertop manufacturer selected Sealy.

“We certainly hope you will pass this and consider us in the future,” he said.

Other members of the public spoke in favor of the zone before the hearing was closed. The next step was adoption of an ordinance to apply for inclusion in the Texas Enterprise Zone Act and to nominate Hailiang Copper Texas as its first project.

Looking through the agreement, councilmembers Chris Noack and Dee Anne Lerma said they did not want the assistant city manager to be the city’s liaison to the program and asked for it to be changed to the city manager instead.

Noack was also concerned about the requirement that the company must hire 25% of its employees who are either disabled, disadvantaged, low income, or a U.S. veteran. He was also uncomfortable with the speed at which the program was being pushed through council. When the vote was taken, he was the only one to vote against it. It will come before the council again for a second reading before it becomes final.

After the meeting, Noack elaborated on his concerns.

“Why was it being rushed? Since it was rushed, did we miss anything or was something accidentally left out?” he asked. “These were questions still running through my head when my name got called to vote.

“I still believe that an enterprise zone program influences both negative and positive discrimination. Under the program, if 25% of a company’s employees are disabled, disadvantaged, low income or are veterans the company would receive $2,500 in tax credits for each employee that met this census block. My concern is, if an applicant is more qualified than another applicant who happens to be in one of the categories mentioned above, would the company pass on the more qualified candidate because they receive the $2,500 credit from the state? I’m not saying that disabled, disadvantaged, low income or veterans do not deserve a job. They definitely do, I just would like to think that they are being hired, and would want to be hired, for their talents and skills verses their demographics.”

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