Carson City needs to keep Harley-Davidson

The key to the future of Carson City's economy is not big-box retail stores, it's quality jobs.

That's why incentives being offered to Harley-Davidson Financial Services to keep its 425 jobs in town will be worth an investment of about $344,000 by Carson City.

The company is looking at a capital investment of some $28 million, and whether Harley-Davidson remains in Carson City or someplace else may well be determined by the incentives dangled before it.

We're generally skeptical of business incentive programs. From a taxpayer point of view, we don't like the idea of businesses shopping around for the best deal it can get. The reality, however, is that Carson City has been battered recently on the retail-sales front and is looking a bit desperate to reverse the trend.

Our skepticism in this case is outweighed by the size and quality of the business being romanced. Harley-Davidson Financial Services is exactly the kind of company Carson City wants to keep -- one of the largest employers in town, with an average wage of $17.07 for those 425 jobs.

Losing Harley-Davidson would be a devastating blow, much worse in the long run than the tax dollars Carson will be bypassing ($235,125 in sales tax for one-time purchases associated with a new facility, and $108,955 in property tax abatements over 10 years).

Harley-Davidson's annual payroll of $15 million would take years to replace.

Nevada has a fairly specific business incentive program, for which Harley-Davidson more than qualifies.

Carson City supervisors should approve a letter supporting the incentives. They should also realize not many businesses are going to come along with the number and quality of Harley-Davidson's jobs, so they should remain skeptical about handing out incentives.

Most important, we urge Harley-Davidson to make a commitment to remain in Carson City. As a lender, the company may be tempted to think only in terms of dollars and cents. But Carson City has far more to offer that won't necessarily show up on a balance sheet.

With such a commitment, we would expect Harley-Davidson to be a major part of Carson City long after many of those big-box stores have moved on.


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