It took millions of dollars of taxpayer money to revitalize a building that represented failed economic development.
“Everybody wanted it gone,” said Casey Rodgers, vice president of finance and strategic planning for Feld Entertainment, the company that now occupies the roughly 550,000-square-foot warehouse building in Palmetto. “It was a reminder of things gone wrong.”
The warehouse built in 1984 at 800 Feld Way was occupied by original developer Siemens Corp. for about a year after the company moved its operations from Wisconsin, according to Rodgers. After Siemens vacated the property, it was used off-and-on for years by multiple tenants. General Electric was the most recent tenant before Feld decided in 2012 to relocate its headquarters to Palmetto.
Feld Entertainment, the company behind the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Disney On Ice shows and Monster Jam monster truck shows, is one of 67 local companies that have contracted with Manatee County for economic development incentives since 2009.
But before Feld decided to move most of its operations to Florida and create additional jobs, company executives considered moving 148 jobs from Florida to its North Carolina operations center.
“We went to the (Bradenton Area) EDC and the county and said, ‘Hey, our new options are to build a new facility or move all 148 jobs to North Carolina’ and we said, ‘What are you going to do for us?’ ” Rodgers said. “And they said, ‘Nothing. We don’t do anything to preserve jobs; we do stuff to grow jobs.’ ” Feld also considered moving the motor sports division, located in Chicago, but because the company owned the building in Chicago, it decided to cut costs elsewhere.
$5.2 milliontotal amount of possible economic development incentive money available to Feld Entertainment
In 2011, Feld opted to move operations from its rented Virginia facility to the warehouse building in Palmetto. In February 2012, the company entered an economic development incentive agreement with Manatee County and the state of Florida for a combined $3.3 million paid over five years, according to Manatee County Economic Development Program manager Karen Stewart and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity online incentive portal.
That agreement required Feld to make a capital investment of $20 million and create 235 jobs at 200 percent or more of the average annual Manatee County wage. The move from Virginia to Palmetto brought 120 jobs to Manatee County and 28 elsewhere in Florida, Rodgers said. Since the building was purchased by Feld in 2012, several renovations and additions were added to the warehouse, according to Manatee County property records.
So far, the county has paid Feld approximately $1.2 million from the first incentive deal. In 2012, the state paid Feld $650,000 from its Quick Action Closing Fund, which is “a tool used to finalize negotiations in highly competitive projects,” according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Since 2013, the state has also paid Feld $337,500 for the creation of 277 jobs.
The incentives helped offset the “huge transactional costs” of moving employees and equipment from Virginia, Rodgers said.
Feld signed a second $2 million incentive agreement in 2015 when the company moved its motor sports division from Chicago to Palmetto. To receive those incentive payments, Feld has to create 200 jobs between 2015 and 2020. The county has paid Feld $150,000 from the second agreement.
The company has exceeded job creation goals, Rodgers said. Almost 600 employees now work at the Palmetto facility, and Rodgers said education levels range from high school dropouts to employees with master’s degrees. When the company interviews potential employees, they look for attitude above anything else.
“If they have the right attitude and the desire to improve their skill set, we can help them move up through the organization,” Rodgers said.
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. connected Feld with CareerSource Suncoast to find employees and Manatee County also provided the company with rapid-response permitting for its multiple additions.
Since consolidating operations from different locations across the country, Rodgers said his company has focused more on connecting with the community and nonprofits in Manatee County. In the end, Rodgers wants Feld to be a source of inspiration for other companies seeking to relocate.
“Our hope is working with the EDC and the county government, we will be a catalyst for more companies like us to come here and really build that economic engine of business and industry that can sustain us through all times,” Rodgers said.
Incentivized at a glance: Feld Entertainment
Location: 800 Feld Way, Palmetto
Incentives approved: 2012 and 2015
Incentive amount: $5.3 million
Projected job growth: 435 jobs total
Projected average wage: $66,896
Projected capital investment: $20 million
Incentives paid: $2.3 million, combined Manatee County and Enterprise Florida funds
Starting employment: 148
Current employment: 563
Source: Manatee County Economic Development Program, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Feld Entertainment