Off the Charts

Off the Charts - July 2008

Money on the Table Business is booming in Lafayette Parish and Acadiana. But what if I told you businesses across the region could do even more? What if businesses had an opportunity to save thousands of dollars on taxes? Sound too good to be true? It’s not. With the federal and state incentives currently in place, businesses have the potential to save thousands of dollars with forethought and planning, but most are letting the opportunity slip away.

Here at LEDA, we’re proud to play a role in Lafayette’s economic growth. One way we do this is by providing businesses with information on incentive and tax credit programs that have the potential to save their businesses tax dollars. In December of last year, LEDA published The LEDA Edge newsletter featuring the most popular incentives, along with several newer and underutilized programs. The newsletter was mailed to more than 8,500 individuals throughout the region, state and country. LEDA sets a goal to meet with 500 unique businesses each year; part of those visits includes a discussion of available business incentives. We also provide the most up-to-date incentive information to the tax assessor’s office that in turn distributes a business incentive flyer to every commercial address in the parish annually.

No one likes taxes, but more often than not business owners don’t take advantage of the tools that are out there to lessen the tax burden on their business. That’s why it’s so critical that we repeatedly inform businesses about the incentives that are available.

Whether a business is starting up, expanding, or relocating operations to Lafayette Parish, there is a broad range of incentives including tax abatements, tax credits and financing assistance that can be accessed. These incentives and credits were put in place to help stimulate business investment in the state and to foster growth in legacy and emerging industries, such as energy and technology, respectively. These programs also help to strengthen the backbone of our economy — entrepreneurs and small business.

Along with your tax adviser, LEDA can help you determine which incentives might be appropriate for you. For example, new businesses or expansions are a natural fit for Enterprise Zone or Quality Jobs because of the programs’ job creation requirements. The state’s Advance Notification form is the first step when applying for either of those programs as well as the Industrial Property Tax Exemption and Restoration Tax Abatement Programs.

It really is that simple to start the process. However, only 1.5 percent of Lafayette Parish businesses have completed an advance filing for their projects in the past three years. It’s a safe bet to say, with Lafayette’s steady economic growth in recent years, that more than 126 businesses in the parish saw job growth and may have qualified for Enterprise Zone or Quality Job benefits —  if only they had applied.

While all commercial construction projects may not result in adequate job creation to qualify for Enterprise Zone or Quality Jobs benefits, if you’re making a considerable investment in a physical structure and you might increase your employee base, we encourage you to look at these programs, as they provide for tax credits for eligible new hires as well as a 4 percent state sales tax rebate on taxable expenditures such as building materials and fixtures. In the city of Lafayette, there were approximately 1,300 commercial construction projects (new and additions and alterations) between 2005 and 2007, but only 94 advance filings.

What does this mean? Simply put, too many businesses are leaving money on the table by not doing the research and making the initial application. This is one time when planning ahead can potentially save your business thousands of dollars because any work performed prior to filling out and submitting the form cannot be counted toward the project even if you do complete an application before the project is completed. You don’t even have to provide exact and final numbers on the form — just estimates of investment costs, employment and payroll. Your final incentive valuation will be calculated at the designated time based on the actual project outcome.

What kind of savings can these incentive programs actually produce? With the Enterprise Zone Program, if you own a business with 20 employees and hire just two new employees, one of whom meets the program requirements, you can receive a total, one-time tax credit of $5,000, or $2,500 per new job/hire. If you’re also building an expansion and the taxable cost of your construction project, including materials used and permanent machinery and fixtures, is $500,000, you could also receive a $20,000 rebate of the 4 percent state sales tax. That’s a total $25,000 tax burden lifted. What business couldn’t use that? The catch, of course, is you must complete the Advance Notification form before construction starts or you make the first new hire.

Incentives have the power to help turn an idea into a reality for small business owners and entrepreneurs. No matter the size and scope of the project, incentive options should be considered. LEDA wants to see businesses succeed across Acadiana. One way we can do that is by continuing to educate business owners about available incentives. But it’s up to you to take that money off the table and put it in your pocket.
Gregg Gothreaux is president and chief executive officer of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority._