The Point Distillery is expanding and will be creating 20 to 25 new jobs, according to background materials in the Pasco County Commission’s Aug. 22 agenda packet.
The distillery, in New Port Richey, will be adding a new bottling line, which will expand the company’s ability to obtain contracts, nationally and internationally, according to a news release from the Pasco Economic Development Council (EDC).
The Pasco EDC’s announced the company’s expansion after the county board’s vote to approve an interest-free loan to The Point Distillery.
Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman voted against the interest-free loan, while other commissioners supported it.
“For me, it’s a fundamental issue on what government should and should not be doing. I just have a concern that the government is giving interest-free loans for private business and we’re operating as a bank, and I just fundamentally just disagree with that.
“It has nothing to do with the business, I don’t believe Pasco County government needs to be working in a capital investment space. There’s risk to the taxpayer money. It’s just a principled position I have on it, it has nothing to do with the business and the success of the business.
“I just think that that business needs to be done in the private sector and Pasco County shouldn’t be competing with banks and other loan entities,” Weightman said.
But other commissioners disagreed.
Commissioner Ron Oakley told Weightman: “You’ve got to remember that it’s board policy to help small businesses, and so we do go out and try to help. A lot of businesses cannot afford to show a way that they can pay it back.
“This particular business has done that in the past and has paid very well,” Oakley said.
Commission Chairman Jack Mariano told Weightman: “The microloan program was started years ago with (Pasco) EDC. I think we put money into it and we had the private sector put money into it as well. It helped these small businesses get loans that otherwise couldn’t get (them.)
“You could pretty much look at giving grant money and not get anything back. At least we’re getting money back from this, coming forward. That just helps them to make the next step, to make an investment and create (a total of) 50 more jobs.”
David Engel, the county’s economic growth director, provided some policy perspective for Weightman.
“Our office doesn’t arbitrarily dole out money or request or recommend money to be provided to businesses in the county,” Engel said.
He explained a board resolution, which established the guidelines for the Penny for Pasco.
“It stipulates that we should provide aid and assistance to target industries and businesses to create jobs, create a public purpose benefit to the local economy.
“This Point Distillery project meets all of the criteria of the board’s adopted, stipulated policy, for Penny for Pasco funding.
“In 2018, the property owner bought the project for $1.4 million, has pumped $400,000 of its own capital into equipment,” Engel said.
The company has already created 32 jobs and will be adding approximately 20 more, with the new equipment it is installing, Engel said. It plans to transition into a double shift, he said.
“If you look at the value equation here, the jobs that this business is creating are for people that needed a second chance, whether that be single parents or ex-felons that served their time.
“And, if you look at the Pasco Re-entry Program, which is a board-funded program through our Workforce Board, we pay the Workforce Board $7,000 for a job placed and trained. This is $962.
“The calculation is key. Zero interest is actually the incentive.
“At the prevailing borrowing rate in Pasco County, 4.22% as of last June, that’s $50,000 in interest expense. If you apply that to the 52 jobs, I think that’s very efficient use of public funds.
“Might I add, redevelopment is very difficult.
“This is a redevelopment story in the West Market area.
“The property was formerly occupied by drug abusers and vagrants. The property is cleaned up. It’s a vibrant business.
“Why do we give them the incentive?
“It’s because they have enormous startup costs to get the new line of business up and running.
“We’re providing a helping hand, getting a lot back in return, and they do pay taxes,” Engel said.
Weightman told Engel he appreciates the detail and the fact that Pasco is following its own rules, but he still doesn’t believe that Pasco should have the role of providing interest-free loans for private business endeavors.
That money could be spent in other ways for the overall public benefit, Weightman said.
Mariano told Weightman he appreciates his input, but views these loans as “another tool in the toolbox” to help bring more jobs to the county.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she supports helping the county’s small businesses to grow.
“I think it’s part of government,” Starkey said.
She also noted that she questioned providing a zero-interest loan but was persuaded that the county is getting a great return on a small investment.
Weightman also said he’d like to see a spreadsheet of how much the county has invested and the overall return.
Engel said he’d welcome such a review. “Our overall ROI (Return on Investment) to all of the expenditures going through our office, including the PEDC is, for every dollar out, we have $62 back to the economy.”
Bill Cronin, president/CEO of Pasco EDC, and Spencer Wolf, the distillery’s CEO, addressed the expansion, in the Pasco EDC’s news release.
“This is great news and wonderful timing as more manufacturers begin to locate along the State Road 52 corridor,” Cronin said, in the release.
“We are delighted with the support from Pasco County and eagerly look forward to our continuing development and expansion,” Wolf said.
Published September 06, 2023