By Andrew Cripps
The economic vitality of Effingham County is connected in large part to the Port of Savannah and the distribution of goods imported and exported there. Because of their proximity to the port, our county and its neighbors offer an attractive location for manufacturing, warehousing and transporting goods throughout the Southeastern U.S. and to the world.
However, the warehouse industry is evolving, as more companies now sell their products direct to consumers, as well as through retail and online stores. The COVID pandemic accelerated this evolution, as more people shop from home. Traditional warehouses are making way for, or becoming, distribution centers. Large e-retailers such as Amazon are developing projects in the region, as we speak.
The chamber of commerce’s Board of Directors supports a referendum that will appear on the Nov. 2 countywide election ballot. Voters will be asked to approve a “Freeport” exemption to the ad valorem tax on e-commerce inventory held in a fulfillment center for shipment from that center directly to the purchaser. We urge county voters to approve this referendum.
Removal of this inventory tax will alleviate a competitive disadvantage for Effingham County as it recruits desirable companies to locate here, bringing with them new jobs and investments. Our surrounding counties have already approved the exemption and are seeing the benefits. Effingham, however, lags behind on e-commerce in our highly competitive region.
The Freeport tax exemptions were established by the Georgia Legislature in 2016. Effingham County has already approved Freeport exemptions on most other goods manufactured or produced here or stored in a warehouse. This referendum would simply extend the exemption to e-commerce products moving through local facilities on their way direct to consumers.
The exemption would not have a negative effect on county tax receipts, as we have little e-commerce activity here now. But the potential investments made by online merchants could be a strong boost to our economy, and create good paying permanent jobs.
The ballot referendum is simple. It reads:
“For the purpose of attracting new jobs and investments, shall Effingham County add to its existing Freeport exemptions the grant of an “e-commerce” Freeport exemption to the ad valorem taxation of the following: stock in trade of a fulfillment center which, on January 1, are stored in a fulfillment center and which are made available to remote purchasers who may make such purchases by electronic, Internet, telephonic, or other remote means, and where such stock in trade of a fulfillment center will be shipped from the fulfillment center and delivered to the purchaser at a location other than the location of the fulfillment center, as permitted by O.C.G.A. § 48-5-48.2.”
Your chamber of commerce believes approval of this Freeport exemption is critical to the economic health of Effingham County, and we urge you to support it with your vote. We will share more information about the benefits of the exemption as we get closer to Election Day.
If you have questions or comments about this, contact me at (912) 754-3301 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Andrew Cripps is the CEO of the Effingah County Chamber of Commerce.