Amazon.com dividing business, local leaders

Amazon.com dividing business, local leaders

By Vicki Shealy, Lexington County Chronicle

April 7, 2011

Supporters are lining up on both sides of a tax break question for Amazon.com.

The S.C. Small Business Chamber is the latest to oppose a sales tax exemption for the online retail giant.

The other group says the state should not be encouraging online shopping rather than buying from brick ad mortar businesses.

“This issue is fundamentally one of the fairness to small businesses that compete with big businesses,” said Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber.

“Amazon already has competitive advantages in this regard. The state does not need to artificially give them another one,” Knapp said.

The company has threatened to pull out of its distribution center under construction at the county’s Saxe Gotha Industrial Park.

And some local business owners say Lexington County has more to lose if Amazon.com doesn’t locate here.

“This will help people get jobs,” said West Columbia realtor Ted McGee.

“It would be ridiculous to lose these jobs, the pay-roll and investment in Lexington County just to collect sales tax,’ McGee said.

According to company figures, Amazon would save $2.3 million by not collecting sales taxes.

But the company will have  $36 million pay-roll.

And it will contribute $1.2 million in fees that will be split with all five county school districts.

Amazon is growing each year. And the number of jobs promised could increase to 3,000 by 2013, officials said.

The sales tax question is a wash whether the company comes to Lexington or not, officials said.

If the exemption is granted, Amazon won’t collect sales tax. But if they don’t come, there won’t be any sales tax collected either,” Council Chairman Jim Kinard said.

Gov. Nikki Haley also does not support the tax break for Amazon, which was worked out by former Gov. Mark Sanford.

Other opposition has been expressed by the South Carolina Alliance for Main Street Fairness, a group representing local retailers and national chain stores.