By Kathy Webber
Photos by Megan Rogers
In 2014 voters approved a measure that would extend the countywide half-cent sales tax through December 2032. The sales tax, managed by the Joint Economic Development Organization (JEDO) and GO Topeka, has often been looked at as a tool for Topeka to secure new business, but it is also used to keep and grow existing businesses in Topeka and Shawnee County.
ALMOST EVERY CITY has some kind of economic development plan, but Molly Howey, director of business development at GO Topeka, said Topeka and Shawnee County have an advantage because of the funds available from the half-cent tax that can be used when negotiating with businesses.
GO Topeka uses three main criteria to decide which companies receive these incentives.
“We look at the number of new jobs created, the wages for these jobs and their investment in real property and personal property,” she said.
The incentive grants will be higher for those companies creating more jobs at a higher wage rate. It is the same with investment in their property. T
he more a business invests in equipment, remodeling or adding onto an existing facility, the more the incentive grants will be.
Incentives are one way to encourage businesses to grow their workforce and invest in their businesses in Topeka instead of in another market.
INVESTING IN PEOPLE
Topeka-based se², which provides administrative services for the U.S. life and annuity insurance industry, plans to use incentive dollars to invest in their workforce. JEDO approved a $1 million grant in May that se² will use to provide training and development for existing employees and for up to 200 new employees.
“se² needs to provide excellent service to our clients, and it’s our people and our associates who do that,” Rea said. “It’s the core of our business.”
The half-cent sales tax allows Topeka to partner with companies to help them grow not only their own business, but to also grow the community of Topeka by creating more higher wage jobs.
“Our ability to grow and to foster takes a partnership with the city and the governing communities around us,” Rea said. “We invest a lot in our people in terms of training and development, but it starts with the community that we are a part of.”
INVESTING IN SMALL BUSINESS
Large businesses are not the only companies that are eligible for incentive grants. Glenda Washington, vice president of the Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development Program of GO Topeka, works with small businesses to help them accomplish their goals.
Recently, GO Topeka offered three types of matching incentive programs to local small businesses.
“The goals were to aide in the growth of our small business community by offering financial support for skills upgrades, equipment purchases, and facility expansion and renovation,” Washington said.
KAW RIVER RUSTICS, a furniture and home decor store located in the NOTO Arts District, recently received two of the matching incentives: Equipment Purchase Reimbursement and the Construction and Renovation Reimbursement.
Diana Converse said the building where the store is located is 150 years old and needed a lot of love and care. With the matching incentives, they were able to make renovations to the building, which included a new roof, a new electrical and lighting system, and a renovated basement.
“We were looking at a couple of minor improvements in the building this year. We were really concerned with how much attention it needed and how we were going to go about making that happen,” Converse said. “Then we found out about the grants and we were able to do so much more than we ever imagined. We were thrilled!”
With the equipment reimbursement grant, Converse was also able to purchase a woodworking machine for the workshop, a laptop, a projector, a document camera, a new printer and a cash register.
PRAIRIE GLASS ART STUDIO, a creative gift, home decor and jewelry store that offers classes and hosts a variety of parties, also benefitted from the matching incentives for equipment and renovations from Go Topeka. Thanks to the incentives, Prairie Glass Art Studio was able to buy a new kiln, a heating chamber used to transform materials at high temperatures, and make updates to the building’s electrical lighting.
Kymm Ledbetter, owner of Prairie Glass Art Studio, said she would not have been able to buy a new kiln without it. Ledbetter expects the new kiln to increase the production of the studio by at least 25 percent.
“Owning your own business is challenging. Things always come up that you don’t expect, and when you get a gift like this, it’s just amazing, and I’m so grateful for that.” Ledbetter said. “It’s made it better for everybody, not just me, but for my customers and the people who take classes.”
SMALL BUSINESS INCENTIVE PROGRAMS
Employee Training Grant: Small businesses can use incentive cash to train employees or to renew certifications. This incentive is for up to $750 per employee with a limit of two employees per company.
Equipment Purchase Reimbursement: This incentive is for independent business owners, not franchisees, with 50 employees or less. GO Topeka will reimburse 50 percent of what the business spends on equipment up to $5,000. If a business spends $10,000, GO Topeka reimburses $5,000.
Construction and Renovation Reimbursement: This is to be used toward the enhancement of an existing property or the construction of a new property. GO Topeka will reimburse 50 percent of what the business invests on construction and renovations up to $5,000. Similar to the equipment purchase reimbursement, if a business spends $10,000, GO Topeka reimburses $5,000.
Sarah and Greg Coulter, owners of SHOCKWAVE ELECTRIC, LLC, a family-owned residential electrical service specialist business, said the training reimbursement grant helped send two of their employees to Generac generator training. The two employees learned how to do warranty work specifically for the Generac generators, which Shockwave Electric sells.
“We’ve been wanting to take the class for quite a while now,” Sarah Coulter said. “We are just a small business, and it is a pricey class, and this made it possible.”
Shockwave Electric also took advantage of the renovations reimbursement grant and did some concrete work and fencing on their property.
Why did GO Topeka / EMBD implement the Small Business Incentives?
- To assist small businesses in getting the tools, equipment and knowledge necessary to grow or expand.
How do you evaluate the success of these incentives?
- We measure jobs created or impacted and the growth of the business itself. We conduct site visits with the owners to determine the overall benefit of the program.
What was the maximum a company could receive?
- If a company took full advantage of all three of the incentives, they could receive $5,000 from Construction and Renovation, $5,000 for Equipment Purchases and up to $750 per employee for Training and Skills upgrades (max 2 employees)–totaling $11,500.
What are some of the results of small business incentives?
- We have seen organic growth and new jobs created. There have been 17 new business starts in the last eight months who participated in the program.
Will you offer more small business incentives in the future?
- It is not over. Programs like the Small Business Incentive Program play a critical role in sustaining small businesses in Shawnee County. This program has aided in business starts, expansions, job growth and job creation. It plays an integral role in stimulating our ecosystem. We have received additional funds to support the incentive and are currently disbursing those dollars. We have budgeted $250k for this program in 2017.