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City to discuss incentive program changes

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The city of Austin is taking a closer look at the agreements it makes to lure businesses to the capitol city and changes for hundreds of workers who may be underpaid may soon be on the way.

Council members want big businesses to know Austin workers should be paid and treated fairly.

Businesses like Samsung, Apple and eBay have been incentivized by the city to set up shop here in Austin and now Visa may join the list of names.

"A company like Visa we believe hundreds of local business who would then work in support of that whole operation and the people who live here," said Kevin Johns with Austin Economic Growth.

Johns says they are offering the credit card company more than one and a half million dollars over ten years as part of a performance based incentive. That's just a fraction of the state's $7.9 million incentive from the enterprise fund.

Johns says Visa's global it center would bring 794 jobs to Austin with the average salary of $113,000.

"Year one if they haven't invested a certain amount of money or created a certain number of jobs they don't receive any money that year," said Johns.

The city averages is about $250 per job created. The funds will come from the city's economic development fund.

Visa also promises to spend $27 million in renovations to office buildings in northwest Austin.

Just as the Visa hype is building, the Workers Defense Project is making their voices heard. Tuesday they protested outside city hall asking for fair wages. It's one of several new recommendations to the city's incentive program, Council Member Mike Martinez proposed.

"The biggest change obviously is a floor on wages for construction projects at $11 an hour, this is new construction build up construction," said Martinez.

The city may also ask businesses if they want incentives from tax payers they'll have to provide health benefits to employees and domestic partner benefits.

"It's going to improve the process. It doesn't make it perfect. It also doesn't make it go away we still need to create jobs in Austin and that's what I wanted to protect as well," said Martinez.

He says the program so far has worked remarkably well but it's still a work in progress to bring in the jobs while making sure big business understands Austin values.



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