Columbia could lure big businesses with electric utility tax incentive

Sunday, February 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — More large businesses and more jobs could come to Columbia if the City Council passes an incentive for large electric customers Monday night.

 The council will decide whether to partially reimburse large electric customers for public infrastructure improvements.

To qualify as a large electric customer, a business must purchase several megawatts of power from the city, Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said. 

A megawatt, or one million watts, would be equal to ten thousand 100-watt light bulbs. There are currently no businesses in Columbia that satisfy this qualification. 

Qualifying infrastructure improvements would include electrical improvements and possibly water improvements that would be owned by the city, St. Romaine said.

Reimbursement for improvements would come from an electric utility tax paid by a the business over time. No more than 50 percent of the total tax would be returned to the customer.

The city manager and staff are proposing this resolution so new large electric companies can enter into development agreements with the city. Large data centers, like Google or IBM, are targets because they are systems that use a great deal of electrical power, St. Romaine said.

This is a typical process in attracting large businesses to relocate to a certain area. Offering this sort of incentive would potentially attract businesses to Columbia, which would in turn create more jobs, he said.

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said the policy resolution would be beneficial because businesses will be more inclined to come to Columbia because of this incentive.

Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade is in favor of the policy as well. He said the income brought into the community from these businesses would ultimately benefit the community.

"The investment that supports that company also increases the value of the infrastructure the community owns," Wade said. "The infrastructure investment is being paid from revenue the city would not have if the company was not here."

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