A majority of commissioners agreed Wednesday that they would rather give NetApp $418,000 to help the company expand than risk losing it to another community.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to follow in the Wichita City Council’s footsteps and give a grant to NetApp, a high-tech data storage company. In return for the money, to be paid over up to five years, NetApp agreed to add at least 418 jobs and spend at least $43 million on new equipment.
Commissioner Richard Ranzau was the lone board member to vote against the grant, saying there was no evidence that NetApp would not have added the jobs and made capital investments without the incentive.
“I take a look at each and every one of these deals that come before us, and this is no different,” Ranzau said. “There’s no evidence that we’re creating a single job with this money.”
Ranzau said there are “lots of places creating jobs, and we don’t give them $1,000 per job.”
He said he didn’t begrudge the company asking for an incentive.
“If you can get the government to give you free money,” great, Ranzau said.
His colleagues, however, said the benefit of keeping NetApp here and watching it grow outweighed the cost of the grant.
The county’s chief financial officer, Chris Chronis, said the estimated return on the county’s investment was $1.98 for every $1.
“We think it’s a very good deal for our taxpayers and a very good deal for our local economy,” Chronis told commissioners.
But Ranzau said the state also is giving NetApp incentives, and he wondered aloud whether the return on investment stands.
Commissioner Karl Peterjohn noted several times that votes on economic development incentives were among the toughest he makes as an elected official.
“It’s a case of poker, and I feel like my whole cards are exposed, and theirs aren’t,” he said.
He said he had toured NetApp’s office, at 3718 N. Rock, and was impressed with the company. But he added: “I want opportunity for everyone. I want opportunity for the guy who is just starting out, too.”
Peterjohn said he didn’t think incentives were the best “system” to grow an economy.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said he didn’t like giving money to businesses but said “I think we need to compete” with other communities offering incentives.