The Weather Channel, headquartered in Cumberland and owned by NBC, has never asked for subsidies before, but it now needs a reason not to leave Cobb, said Kathy Angell, senior vice president of The Weather Channel’s taxation division, in a Nov. 1 email to Brooks Mathis, executive vice president of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
The company opened its current offices on Interstate North Parkway at I-75 and I-285 in 1996.
Its planned expansion is valued at $90 million, Mathis said in emails obtained by the MDJ. Shirley Powell, executive vice president, said The Weather Channel would not comment and that anything the MDJ reported at this point would be “speculation.” The emails were given to the MDJ by Kevin Schmidt, a former Cobb resident and an investigative analyst for Washington, D.C.-based Cause of Action, a government transparency watchdog group.
The negotiations are ongoing and one of the sticking points could be a parking facility for the expanded Weather Channel offices.
“To be honest with you, (off the record) none of these discussions have really provided us with any type compelling incentives for us to stay in Cobb County. I am just being honest here,” Angell wrote to Mathis in an email. “Our senior management feels that they would be making a significant investment to stay here and as far as I know, The Weather Channel has never historically asked for any incentives from Cobb County. The property tax abatement is also not a compelling incentive at the current amount, and in fact would cost us to pursue that option. Nobody has focused on any incentives for a parking build, which is our most current challenge to solve.”
More parking is needed for the company’s employees, according to the emails, and a bus stop outside its headquarters is being considered, along with a county-funded traffic study and traffic light or speed bumps.
Public officials who have been communicating via phone and email with The Weather Channel include Nelson Geter, executive director of the Development Authority, county Chairman Tim Lee and Faye DiMassimo, director of Cobb’s Department of Transportation.
The emails were sent between Sept. 30 and Nov. 2.
Will state kick in to help Cobb keep TWC?
The Weather Channel could be eligible for a laundry list of state and local incentives, including sales tax exemptions, film tax credits, property tax abatement on new construction and a grant from the Development Authority, among others.
Its proposed expansions include renovated office space and TV studios, new parking and between 200 and 300 jobs with an average salary of about $75,000.
Mathis said it’s important to pull out all of the stops for a project of this type. He said keeping the company was “crucial.”
“It is actually more important that we do it for companies that are willing to pay those kinds of salaries to their employees because those are the kinds of jobs that we want,” Mathis said.
It’s more difficult, Mathis said, to recruit new high-paying businesses than it is to keep existing blue-chip companies in Cobb.
The company is expecting to hire 288 new employees between now and 2016 representing more than $29.4 million in salaries. The majority of those employees will earn an average salary of almost $75,000. Another 44 directors with an average salary of $122,000 are also expected to be hired, according to emails.
Sam Champion, the chief meteorologist for ABC’s Good Morning America show, announced last week he is leaving that network to join The Weather Channel as its executive editor. The top rung of The Weather Channel’s on-air talent earns an average of $1.5 million per year, according to the documents presented by the company to county officials and obtained by MDJ.
Nelson Geter, the Development Authority director who also serves as an economic development manager for the Cobb Chamber, said it’s vital to keep the company.
“I think there’s always a potential when we’re about to bring or lose a company the size of The Weather Channel … that we should do everything humanly possible to make sure we retain those companies including the possibility of offering retention grants,” Geter said.
Mathis said large corporations like The Weather Channel help him and other economic-development officials market Cobb as a business-friendly community.
“All of these companies, like The Weather Channel, Home Depot, Atlanta Braves, GE, help tell our story because they’re notable companies,” Mathis said.
Cobb Chairman Tim Lee acknowledged the company faces challenges in staying in Cobb and said talks have been taking place for about six weeks and remain ongoing.
Lee said there is an appropriate limit to the incentives that should be offered to any company, but said that limit has not been determined in the case of The Weather Channel because it’s still too early in the negotiation process.
The Weather Channel’s Wish List:
• Grants for parking deck and building code relief on a $1 million retention pond
• Grants and property tax exemptions for office and TV studio expansion and building renovation
• Grants and property tax exemption for technology upgrades
• County or state-funded traffic light or speed bumps on Interstate North Parkway
• Bus route stop at 300 Interstate North Parkway
• Relaxation of county sign permit code to allow for an electronic sign and a marketing sign wrapping the building