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St. Louis County approves $155 million in tax breaks for Boeing expansion at Lambert

County resident Jean Loemcar addresses members of the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at the Lawrence K. Roos County Government Building. During the meeting, Loemcar spoke in favor of a bill that would freeze property taxes for seniors, but would reduce future funding for schools.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
County resident Jean Loemcar addresses members of the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at the Lawrence K. Roos County Government Building. During the meeting, Loemcar spoke in favor of a bill that would freeze property taxes for seniors, but would reduce future funding for schools.

The St. Louis County Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to approve $155 million in tax incentives for Boeing Co.’s proposed $1.8 billion development near St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The deal gives the aerospace company a 50% cut in real estate and personal property taxes over the next 10 years. It also allows for some building materials to be exempt from sales and use tax.

In return for the incentives, Boeing promises the project will create at least 500 new jobs centered in north St. Louis County.

“We don’t want to lose any more corporate partners here in the St. Louis region,” said Councilwoman Rita Heard Days, who sponsored the bill. “I’m very pleased they will at least be able to compete.”

Days referenced Lockheed Martin, another aerospace company, which has secured a large incentive package, worth nearly $80 million, from Cobb County, Georgia.

“I look at the Boeing opportunity as having a positive financial impact on economic development and other services that go along with the possibility of us getting this,” she said.

A portion of Boeing’s new development will be located in Days’ north county district.

“We are trying to elevate north county, (which) is seen as the stepchild of St. Louis County,” she said. “With these kinds of developments, we’re doing a lot in terms of economic development.”

Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, the lone vote against the incentive package, said, “I think that it is these types of incentives that have turned this country, this county, the world we live in into a game that is stacked against the working families that we're trying to protect by passing this bill.”

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he plans to sign the bill Wednesday morning.

“Tonight’s vote shows St. Louis County’s commitment to growing our economy, expanding career opportunities and building on our priorities to invest in north county,” he said Tuesday. “Landing this deal will bolster St. Louis County’s brand as a national leader in the defense industry.”

Business leaders across the area had voiced support for the project in a letter to the county council last month.

“This is St. Louis on the rise. These are the kinds of deals I feel like we’ve missed in the past,” said Jason Hall, CEO of Greater St. Louis Inc., which promotes economic growth in the region.

Details on what Boeing wants to use the new 1 million square feet of advanced manufacturing space for are sparse. Executives have said it would allow the company to compete for “next franchise programs” in St. Louis.

The proposal for this development comes a few months after the Air Force formally launched its search for a contractor to engineer and supply its next-generation fighter jets. The details of those contracts are highly classified, and a company won’t be awarded them until next year.

“When you look more broadly at suppliers and the impact of that, it multiplies,” Hall said. “We know this company, we know what they’ve done in this community, and this is about the next generation of that.”

But the project has faced scrutiny, especially since Boeing’s request for tax breaks came weeks after the county council voted against freezing property taxes for senior citizens.

Councilman Dennis Hancock, who was absent Tuesday, is trying to resurrect that plan. It’s expected to be discussed in committee next week.

Some members of the council expressed mixed feelings with the Boeing legislation before eventually voting for it.

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy said she would like for regions to compete for megaprojects, like Boeing’s, on the merits of their workforce, infrastructure, history of industry or stability of their leadership.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case,” she said. “To even have a chance of getting this major expansion, the city and the county and the state had to make some economic concessions.”

Councilman Ernie Trakas agreed, adding that St. Louis County needs big corporations like Boeing, especially for the future of the region.

“We can’t afford to lose any more corporate headquarters or significant corporate presence,” he said. “Yes, this is a lot of money, but if we don’t do it, some other region will.”

Dunaway said she disagrees with the limited number of requirements on Boeing around the project and not making the company invest more in the county.

“I’m going to always be a no on these (kinds of deals) from here on out unless they come with some guarantee that part of their savings are going to be used to reinvest into the community,” Dunaway said.

Councilman Mark Harder also voted for the incentives, which passed with bipartisan support. Council Chairwoman Shalonda Webb abstained because she works for Boeing.

In addition to creating 500 new jobs, the company must also not allow its St. Louis-area workforce to drop below 12,100 during the tax incentives' 10-year lifespan. The company now has around 16,000 workers in the region.

With the incentives from St. Louis County out of the way, Boeing still needs approval from St. Louis’ Board of Aldermen since the city owns Lambert, where some of the development will be. A bill on leasing that land was introduced last week and passed out of committee on Monday.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East area in Illinois for St. Louis Public Radio. He joins the news team as its first Report for America corps member and is tasked with expanding KWMU's coverage east from the Mississippi. Before joining St. Louis Public Radio, Eric held competitive internships at Fox News Channel, NPR-affiliate WSHU Public Radio and AccuWeather. As a news fellow at WSHU's Long Island Bureau, he covered governments and environmental issues as well as other general assignments. Eric grew up in Northern Colorado but attended Stony Brook University, in New York where he earned his degree in journalism in 2018. He is an expert skier, avid reader and lifelong musician-he plays saxophone and clarinet.