CLEARWATER – With mention of an entity code-named Project Woodstork receiving funds from the Q-TIP program, the Sept. 30 work session and Oct. 3 meeting of the Clearwater City Council sounded more like CIA operatives planning a covert operation than municipal officials tending to everyday business. But despite the pseudonym and acronym, it really was just a routine attempt to help a local business expand its workforce.
Q-TIP is an acronym for Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program. The Florida Legislature created it “to encourage the growth of Florida’s high-wage, value-added employment,” according to an Oct. 3 staff memo to the city council.
“This law authorizes Enterprise Florida Inc., to accept, review and recommend applications for consideration by the (Florida Department of Economic Opportunity) for tax refunds to qualified target industry businesses,” the memo further explains. “The QTI Program works as an incentive to encourage companies to locate or expand in Florida. … Project Woodstork is seeking state, county and city inducement to expand operations and to create additional jobs in the city of Clearwater.”
“Project Woodstork is the alias name of the applicant company,” Denise Sanderson, the city’s assistant director of economic development and housing, told the council at its Oct. 3 meeting.
It is quite common for Q-TIP applicants to use a pseudonym, at least in the early stages of negotiation, to avoid revealing sensitive data to their competitors. And Florida law allows “certain information, including the name of the company, (to) remain confidential until such time as (disclosure) is required under statute or desired by the applicant,’” according to the staff memo.
Despite the secrecy, Q-TIP applications are quite common. When Mayor George Cretekos mentioned at the Oct. 3 City Council meeting that Project Woodstork was the second Q-TIP application that the city has processed in recent months, Sanderson corrected him and said that it is actually the fifth one processed so far this year.
The company currently identified as Project Woodstork plans to add 10 new full-time jobs this year and another 10 next year, and describes these as “high value-added” jobs. In return for the tax break, the company has agreed to pay its workers “an annual average wage of at least $50,000, which is at least 115 percent of the state of Florida average wage requirements” to qualify for Q-TIP incentives.
If Project Woodstork creates the jobs it has promised to create, it will receive a tax refund of up to $5,000 for each new job. The state of Florida will pay 80 percent of the rebate, and Pinellas County and the city of Clearwater will each pay 10 percent. If job creation falls below 80 percent of the required jobs, or if the average annual wage paid by the company drops below $50,000, the company will not receive a refund and will be dropped from the program.
“A cash commitment exists for Project Woodstork for the city of Clearwater local financial support for the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program in the amount of $10,000,” the Clearwater resolution approving the refund states. “However, in no event will the total contribution of the City of Clearwater for Project Woodstork exceed $10,000.”