Curry transition subcommittee discusses incentives to bring in lower-paying jobs

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Mayor-elect Lenny Curry might be asked to welcome more lower- and midwage jobs to town with the help of city assistance.

“There is an unemployed and underemployed group that going from an $8 (an hour) job to $12-$15 is a healthy step up,” said former Mayor John Delaney, chair of Curry’s Economic Development Transition Subcommittee, after a Monday meeting.

That would be a comparison of $16,640 a year to $24,960-$31,200. In past years, the city has focused on providing taxpayer incentives to higher-paying jobs, defined as those that start with average salaries of almost $50,000.

However, lower- and midwage jobs provide paychecks to workers who might not be adequately skilled or qualified to fill higher-wage positions.

Moreover, high-wage employers typically have not located in economically distressed areas, while lower-paying companies might choose to set up there if incentives can help with the decision.

Also, some workers, such as college students, might seek lower-skilled or entry-level positions as they earn money while training or studying for careers. The lower-wage jobs serve as a feeder system to help employees reach higher-skilled positions.

Delaney suggested the group consider a strategy for such “step-up wages.”

He said Monday he refers to the “sociological return” of making lower-paying positions available, especially in areas of town where highly recruited companies aren’t moving.

Those employers generally have sought locations in Southside and Cecil Commerce Center to locate near an available skilled workforce.

While companies also have been choosing Downtown, areas such as Northwest Jacksonville and Arlington have not had much success in landing such projects.

Delaney served two terms as mayor from 1995-2003 and has been president of the University of North Florida since leaving office.

He pointed out that after the 1980s, the city decided to drop taxpayer assistance for call centers, which are back-office operations that typically did not offer high wages. However, he said some of those jobs provided benefits along with those wages.

Delaney also decided during his term to offer taxpayer assistance to projects only north and west of the St. Johns River, still considered the area most lacking in economic development.

Omega Allen, an early mayoral contender against Curry who was tapped for the subcommittee, said the city should put economic development within the reach of residents so they don’t have to commute to Southside, the city’s busiest side of town.

To provide taxpayer assistance to recruit such jobs would mean the city would need to accept a lower return on investment, Delaney said.

“We’ll see the model. It may be an exception to the model,” he said, adding there are some subjective measures as well.

While new city CFO Mike Weinstein was scheduled to talk at the next meeting Thursday about the former Jacksonville Economic Development Commission he led, Delaney instead asked that Office of Economic Development executive Joe Whitaker explain a former matrix system devised to rate the quality of proposed deals.

That matrix was developed by subcommittee members Ceree Harden and Jeanne Miller while Harden served on the JEDC and Miller worked for it. It was designed to score proposed incentives applications on their value to the community based on factors such as location, number of jobs, wages and capital investment.

The usefulness of lower-wage jobs also surfaced in previous meetings, especially during a discussion of the generally lower-paying tourism and hospitality employment that would be generated by a potential new convention center Downtown.

The 18-member transition subcommittee meets Monday and Thursday mornings at Delaney’s office at UNF. Monday’s meeting was the fifth of eight. The last is scheduled July 9. Curry takes office Wednesday.

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