Austin City Council considers incentive package for Visa, Inc.


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist SCOTT McKENNEY

Posted on November 28, 2012 at 6:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 28 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- The Research Park building complex in Northwest Austin could soon be the home to Visa, Incorporated. The California-based company is looking to relocate to Austin and bring 794 jobs that pay, on average, $113,000 a year.

"Good jobs with good wages that have good benefits for our citizens," said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell of the possible move.

In return, Visa, Inc. executives are asking the Austin City Council for a ten-year economic development grant.

"From my view if you're very, very careful, and you're investing in Austin's core values, then I think it makes sense," said Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison.

Under the proposed agreement, if Visa, Inc. agrees to renovate an existing building into its Global IT Center, staff it over the next five years with 794 employees -- 70 percent of them being from the Austin area -- and offer a comprehensive benefits package, Visa would get an incentive of about $1.56 million from the city.

"We're not actually paying them money; we are just not collecting as much from them as we normally would," explained Leffingwell. 

The council voted Wednesday to set a public hearing on the deal for Thursday, December 6th. After the hearing, the council could approve the incentive and then it would be up to Visa, Inc. to accept the deal. There are at least two other cities vying for the company, but Leffingwell says he is very optimistic that the deal will go through. And if it does, the city could have a net benefit of $6.8 million from Visa's move to Austin

The decision to move forward with this incentive comes just one day after Travis County commissioners passed a policy stating that any company that wants an incentive from them has to have a minimum wage of  $11 per hour. It's a policy that the city is also considering, but it's getting mixed reviews from the council.

"They don't need to apply for tax incentives," said Morrison. "If we are really true to our values, we need to be standing up and implementing all of our values in those actions."

Morrison would like to see a similar policy in place before another incentive, including the one with Visa, Inc., is approved -- setting a standard that would benefit several industries, particularly construction workers.

But Mayor Leffingwell opposes the policy. "If they built a facility, a building, they would not be paying the construction workers. They would go out and hire a company to do it for them. And furthermore, they don't receive credit for anything that's done in the construction process. Our agreement has to do with operation of their business," he said.

An issue that could change the way the city handles incentives, as the deal for one company waits in the wings.