Shane Short has been at the head of the Development Authority of Walton County since 2013. He's the county's point person for recruiting new companies to Walton County and developing existing ones. His job is a complicated one, full of code names, secret negotiations and arcane tax breaks, but his goal is simple: make Walton County a more prosperous place.
His biggest success so far was landing the deal that brought a Facebook data center to the Stanton Springs industrial site in March of last year. Facebook is spending $750 million to construct the center and will eventually plow $42 billion into the site.
Short, along with several others who worked on the project, accepted the "Deal of Year" award from former Gov. Nathan Deal for 2018's most outstanding economic development undertaking.
More recently, Short organized a joint economic development summit involving officials from across the county. He’s also hinted that several deals will be announced in the next month or so.
Walton Tribune: Why is industrial recruitment such a secretive process?
Shane Short: Most companies do not want their business publicly known for a variety of reasons.
One, not wanting their competitors to know that they are expanding and growing; two, they like to control their announcements as a part of their strategic and/or marketing plan; three, they don’t want to scare their existing employees that they may be relocating; and four, they like to make sure that their suppliers and/or customers are ready for the change before it goes public to assure proper relationships aren’t negatively affected.
WT: What do industries see in Walton County that make them want to move here?
SS: Industries want to move to Walton County for various reason including our location, proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Georgia Ports, Interstate 20 and our highway infrastructure, availability of land, utility infrastructure, workforce, climate, and business-friendly governments.
WT: What about the area is most concerning to these companies?
SS: Workforce is the number one issue facing most all companies today. With unemployment at below 4%, it’s difficult to find quality and dependable employees to fill new and vacant positions.
WT: What sort of companies do you think would suit Walton County best and why?
SS: Walton County has a diverse mix of companies, mostly in distribution and manufacturing. Most of the interest we have seen the past several years is in manufacturing, but are also seeing more interest in data center expansion. Right now, however, manufacturing and high-tech companies are our main focus of recruitment.
WT: Why do we need to offer tax incentives and other breaks for some of these deals? Do all the industries you recruit get them? What kind of impact does a company need to offer to qualify for incentives?
SS: The simple answer is yes, we have to offer tax incentives. It’s just a part of doing business in the economic development world.
Economic development has become a highly competitive process, and if you aren’t willing to negotiate a win-win deal for the community and company, you get left behind.
These companies choose locations by process of elimination. If you don’t have what they are looking for or you aren’t willing to strike a deal, you get taken off the list. Walton County has been fortunate to negotiate deals with companies that benefit both the community and the company.
We rarely offer 100 percent tax breaks, and we never discuss abatement of school taxes unless the company presses us to do so. Our thought process on school taxes is that if you aren’t willing to invest in the future workforce, then perhaps you aren’t a good fit for Walton County.
The Development Authority doesn’t have a standard or cookie cutter approach to how we offer incentives, but we do look at few things every time.
We look at the type of industry. We want it to be green, clean and healthy. We look at the number and types of new jobs that will be created. And, we look at the amount the company will invest into the community.
After analyzing each of these different criteria, we decided what we think is a good offer to the company. Obviously this is the starting point of negotiations and we negotiate a deal that is a win-win for all involved.