American Plant Food Co. (APF), a Texas-based company that produces industrial fertilizers, wants to open a new manufacturing plant along the Mississippi River in Waggaman. (Image via APF’s project outreach website)
A state board gave a multi-million dollar tax break Wednesday to a Texas fertilizer company that reneged on its promise to bring more than 100 six-figure-salaried jobs to Jefferson Parish if officials allowed it to build a chemical plant there.
Despite public backlash over the situation this summer, the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve an Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) application from American Plant Food. The company manufactures ammonia fertilizers for large industrial-scale farms and plans to open a new plant along the Mississippi River in Waggaman.
For nearly a year, American Plant Food has been using the allure of high-paying jobs to promote its plans, but records filed with state regulators show the company has changed its number of promised jobs at least three times. In each case, the number has been significantly lower than the initial estimate of 100, and its projected salaries have fallen by nearly half.
The first change occurred in March when American Plant Food filed paperwork to apply for ITEP that indicated it planned to create only 16 new positions at the plant, according to the Louisiana Economic Development agency, which manages ITEP.
The second revision occurred later that month when the company filed its full application with a job-creation figure of only 13 positions at an average annual salary of just $56,000, far below the initial promised pay of $120,000 and slightly below the median household income for Jefferson Parish.
The latest change came Wednesday when American Plant Food told the Board of Commerce it planned to create 28 jobs with average salaries at roughly $133,000. However, the company included 15 contractor positions within that figure, so the number of full-time permanent positions remains 13.
“I think at this point the general public is well informed and not happy about American Plant Food’s promises to the community and the information provided to you in its initial ITEP application,” Jefferson Parish resident Lisa Karlin said at Wednesday’s meeting. …”And now they’re manipulating the numbers, adding in contractor salaries to again inflate the average permanent full-time salaries.”
Louisiana’s ITEP is one of several lucrative taxpayer-subsidized incentives state and local officials use to attract and retain businesses. It offers industrial manufacturers huge exemptions on property taxes, which local governments rely on to pay for things such as schools, drainage, roads, hospitals, law enforcement and other public services.
Two Jefferson Parish residents spoke in opposition to American Plant Food’s request. Resident Lisa Karlin read from a stack of news headlines and editorials that called attention to the company’s conflicting promises.
Karlin said many residents feel the Board of Commerce is condoning public deception and opening the door for other ITEP applicants to inflate their job-creation figures.
Nancy Pearson, president of the River Ridge Community Association, said her organization passed a resolution asking the Board of Commerce to reject American Plant Food’s ITEP application. River Ridge is directly across the river from the planned site of the fertilizer plant.
“They get a tax exemption, and what good are they bringing into Jefferson Parish as far as jobs?”
In exchange for 13 full-time and 15 contractor jobs, the Board of Commerce granted American Plant Food a $3.66 million first-year tax break. The company’s total 10-year tax exemption would amount to roughly $36 million unless those job-creation numbers aren’t reached.
Jerry Bilicek, American Plant Food’s chief operating officer, told the board the initial figure of 100 jobs was based on the company’s initial project plans. The company has since downsized the project due to inflation and plans to complete it in three phases, resulting in the revised figure of 13 full-time jobs.
“That’s what we’re willing to commit to you today to move forward,” Bilicek said. “But as I’ve shared with the board, we have every intention and desire on a much larger project.”
While proponents of ITEP and other corporate incentives often argue they are needed to improve Louisiana’s business climate, attract companies or compete with other states, Bilicek gave an entirely different reason for why American Plant Food chose to build in Louisiana.
Board member Jan Moller, who runs the nonprofit Louisiana Budget Project and ultimately voted in favor of APF’s request, asked Bilicek if the company would go to another state if it doesn’t receive the tax exemption.
Bilicek said a rejection wouldn’t kill the project but would hurt its bottom line. He added that American Plant Food wasn’t looking to build in any other states because the company needed a location along the Mississippi River.
“There is some unique advantages of why we want to be here,” Bilicek said. “The great Mississippi River is a big artery for the import of fertilizer.”
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