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Poaching goose wants protection from gander

Johnson City Press • Jan 21, 2020 at 7:15 AM

Should government protect a private business from competition?

That's what Steve Johnson, developer of The Pinnacle shopping center at Bristol, Tennessee, intends with the help of top gun lobbyist Ron Ramsey, former speaker of the Tennessee Senate and lieutenant governor.

Johnson hired Ramsey to shepherd legislation through the state legislature which would prevent businesses located at The Pinnacle from relocating to the next big regional development, ostensibly the Boones Creek incentive district in north Johnson City. Indeed, the heat is on to stall or prevent the development with failed pressure from a handful of lawyers and businessman to delay approval.

Early last year the state began to transform Interstate 26’s Exit 17 into a diverging diamond configuration more conducive to traffic flow. And Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation to create a 950-acre district where 75 percent of new sales tax revenue will be used to incentivize tenants. Businesses seeking to locate there could apply for incentive money to offset the cost of property acquisition, design or construction, similar to the same incentive law The Pinnacle used to develop.

Bass Pro, Carmax, Marquee Cinemas and the region's largest Belk were among initial tenants at The Pinnacle and Johnson wants to keep them there, along with some 70 other businesses, including those pulled from other communities, Kingsport's BestBuy among those. Johnson wants to be sure that what's good for his goose is not good for Johnson City's gander.

“All we care about is that they don’t poach from existing sites, period,” Ramsey said. He's drafting legislation to ensure that businesses in existing border-region incentive districts don’t move to the incentive district at Boones Creek. He says his legislation will ensure that businesses won’t benefit from state tax breaks twice.

Perhaps that should have been written into the original incentive district legislation. But doing so after the fact seems an inappropriate government intrusion in the marketplace in an attempt to protect a single private business.

“You see industry all the time that will go somewhere for a tax break, that tax break runs out, then they go somewhere else,” Ramsey said. “That doesn’t do anybody any good.” Clearly the business thinks it does them some good or they wouldn't relocate. As clear, it does the local economy some good with jobs, sales taxes and shopping opportunities.

Says Ramsey, "This will be more protection of state taxpayers as much as anything else."

No. It will be more protective of The Pinnacle’s success than anything else.

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