Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 20, 2014

MAUREEN HAYDEN: A big hit to small business?


Goshen News

---- — Six years ago, Nate Richardson was launching a company from an old ambulance owned by his business partner and taking meetings at a library near his home.

Now the Marine veteran counts the Indiana Pacers and Walt Disney Resorts among his customers. His product: A non-toxic agent that kills, then protects against, antibiotic-resistant super-bugs. The Pacers use his stuff to guard against the potentially deadly staph infections that have taken root in some NBA and NFL locker rooms — and other places where sweaty people gather.

Those super-bugs, spreading in number, are a growth industry for Richardson, an Indiana native who left home after graduating from Indiana State University. He moved back to launch his business, now in the Flagship Enterprise Center, a business incubator in Anderson that grows advanced manufacturing start-ups.

Last year, Richardson sealed his commitment to the city when he pulled his company’s bottling and packaging lines out of Illinois and Wisconsin, where they’d been outsourced, to bring them home to Anderson.

His is the story that Indiana boosters like to tell, which is why he was in the audience at Gov. Mike Pence’s State of the State speech last week. The governor invited him there to be the human face of an ambitious plan to eliminate the business personal property tax.

Pence needs the help. His plan has met with mighty resistance from local government and schools officials fearful of losing a $1 billion revenue stream that springs from the tax.

Legislative leaders have offered watered-down proposals to begin phasing out the tax. A House bill would give counties the option of eliminating the tax on all new business equipment. A Senate bill would eliminate the tax for small businesses, cut the corporate income tax, and set up a blue-ribbon commission to study the matter.

Richardson just wants it to go. “When I buy equipment, like the bottling unit that costs $75,000, I pay the sales tax on it,” he said. “But then, every year after, I have to pay taxes on it again. Everything I’ve got is taxed — the equipment, the mixers, the tables. Even my chairs.”

Last year, Richardson paid about $5,000 in business personal property taxes. It seems like a small contribution, given that the tax’s total collections raised more than $2 million for the city of Anderson, another $1 million for Anderson schools, and more than $14 million for all the government units in Madison County.

For Richardson, the amount isn’t negligible. “I’m a small shop. For me, that’s a big hit. I’m already paying a lot of other taxes.” That includes investing significant dollars, he said, to comply with federal environmental rules that cover his kind of business.

Richardson is sympathetic to the concerns of local leaders worried about losing revenue. Federal and state tax revenue, after all, helped build the Flagship center, along with money from the sale of some General Motors property after the automaker fled the city.

But he dreams about what he can do with that $5,000. It’s not nearly enough to hire another employee. It is enough, he said, to train some current employees or boost benefits for the sales staff.

“People who don’t own a business just don’t understand how capital works. If I don’t pay that tax, I’m not just going to stick the money in my pocket or go out and buy a boat,” he said. “I’m going to use it to grow the business.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden