As support continues to grow for the Savannah Logistics Technology Corridor, the task force behind the endeavor is looking to the 2020 Georgia General Assembly for the next step in the corridor’s future as several incentives are presented to the delegation for consideration.
“This is a team effort between the Savannah corridor and the (Fort Gordon Cyber Security and Information Technology Corridor) to bring these very targeted incentives that will help to make our corridors more attractive and unique in many ways to other tech areas in the country,” SLTC task force chairman Keith Fletcher said of the incentives that will be presented to the Georgia Legislature, which convenes Monday, Jan. 13.
The Savannah and Augusta corridor designation was first approved by the Georgia Legislature during the 2018 session on the heels of a 2017 recommendation of a Senate study committee that looked at incentives for technology growth and for locations for corridors.
The designation creates a geographically defined area where businesses can locate and be close enough to each other to encourage collaboration and innovation. The corridor’s boundaries cover a portion of Interstates 95 and 16, the Savannah River and U.S. Highway 17 and provide opportunity not only for Savannah, but also other areas such as Bryan and Effingham counties.
The incentives, which would apply to both the Savannah and Augusta corridors, include enhancing the Qualified Investor Tax Credit, also known as the Angel Tax Credit, by 50% to 100% for investments in the corridor and ensure that investing in an Angel Fund qualifies along with investing in individual startup companies and capping it at an additional $1 million per year over previous years.
Currently in Georgia, the law provides a credit of up to $50,000 annually for investors of early stage, startup companies.
Technical Assistance (Planning) Grants are being proposed as a way to encourage companies to work together, exchange ideas and develop talent. Also being proposed is a Loss and Credit Transfer, which would help companies within the corridor to capitalize their operating losses and research tax credits by selling them to other companies or individuals.
Fletcher said the most specific and the incentive most likely to draw workers to the area is a student loan tax credit proposal, which would be limited to $2.5 million per year total and $4,500 per student maximum for undergraduate federal student loans.
“That is truly unique and that’s a major piece because that’s a huge problem, because just about anybody who has gone to college in the last 20 years has come out with an enormous amount of debt and there needs to be something done, and this an attempt by us to find a way to help that while these people help us,” he said.
The credit would be available for workers who earned STEM degrees and/or logistics technology-related degrees starting in 2000 from any accredited college or university. They must have a minimum of three to five years of experience to qualify.
The task force estimates that the incentive could support at least 500 new STEM/logistics technologists in the corridor.
In total, the task force estimates that an additional 3,850 jobs can be created or brought to the Savannah area within the next five years through the overall efforts of the SLTC.
For the student loan credit, the task force is asking the state for $2.5 million per year from 2021 to 2025 for a total of $12.5 million. The same amount over the same time period is also being requested for the Augusta corridor.
“That isn’t in cash that the state has to write checks for. This would be strictly in less tax revenue from the new companies that we’re looking to bring in here or startups that will happen or people that will relocate here,” Fletcher said.
He said approval of the incentives would be a major step for the corridor.
“It moves it from being just signs on the freeway designating an area to it actually being something that is important and does something, and that’s really the next step, so we need this this session,” he said.
State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who will present the incentives during the legislative session, cautions that while the corridor is poised to create numerous benefits for the area, funding across the state is tight this year.
“Even though it really doesn’t cost the state anything, the perception is there that it will be a potential revenue drain at some point as essentially an opportunity zone to give incentives, which we need to do this logistics corridor, but we’re going to put it in and see what happens,” Stephens said. “I suspect it’ll be much more of an uphill battle this year because of the revenue restraints, but it is something that needs to happen.”
Stephens said he expects to introduce the bill this week.
“The corridor is a big deal. It’s one of those things that a lot of people don’t understand, but it does give weight to those areas where there’s an awful lot of activity, and with the port being the center of the economic hub it does nothing except give them, and those people who are going into the industry, including the education system all the way down, a leg up and puts them on the radar,” Stephens said. “We’re going to push for it.”
As the task force awaits the presentation of the incentives, it’s also gearing up to start a study to explore a location for a physical space thanks to $400,000 in 2019 state-approved funding along with an additional $100,000 from the Savannah Economic Development Authority. The money will also be used for the future design of the building, Fletcher said.
Georgia Southern University will be heading up the study, and the task force aims for the facility to be similar to Tech Square in Atlanta, which according to its website has the highest density of startups, corporate innovators, and academic researchers in the southeastern United States.
“We have a rough idea based on experience and things we’ve done (of size and location), but obviously if you’re going to be spending the kind of money we’re going to, we need lots of expert work done to make sure we don’t make it too small, that we put it exactly where it should be, and these are things that Georgia Southern has an expertise in,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher also reminds the community that the entire SLTC project is grassroots driven and encourages the community to write their state representatives or Gov. Brian Kemp’s office to show support for the project.
“It’s not being promoted by any government entity, but it is being helped by almost all of them and it’s truly grassroots, it’s truly the people of Savannah. Nobody is being paid to do this. Nobody is being compensated to make this happen. There’s no money here,” he said. “This is a true example of people getting together to say, we need this and putting in the time and effort to make something good happen for their area. The more support that we have, the better.”
By Katie Nussbaum