Economic development director Larry Brooks said the move was made as a stepping-stone to hopefully encourage the Department of Community Affairs to re-designate the area as an opportunity zone, thereby allowing financial benefits to local businesses within its borders.
“By us doing an enterprise zone, it’s sort of the first step for us to create an opportunity zone,” he said.
The area in question extends from West Reed Road to the north to Gordon Pond Road to the south, and is the census tract that includes the old Sweetheart Cup building, which has sat empty of industry for many years.
“We’ve got several companies that are currently looking at the Sweetheart Cup building,” said Brooks. “We actually had our tier, our designation change. DCA identified different economic indicators to put the counties in different tiers and so we were actually moved to a tier three, which gives us a smaller job tax credit.”
The change was made last year, said Brooks, and makes the county less desirable to businesses looking to reap the benefits of the job tax credit by creating new jobs.
“What this will do is it will allow us to have a greater job tax credit. It will allow us to double what we currently have.”
The county currently receives a job tax credit of $1,750 per new employee. Should the DCA approve an opportunity zone in the designated census tract, that amount will increase to $3,500, almost identical to the amount the county received while in tier two.
“We’re doing this,” Brooks said, “anticipating, hoping, keeping our fingers crossed and saying a prayer that one of these industries that are looking at the building will indeed choose to take it. It gives them a greater incentive to locate there.”
The designation of an enterprise zone provides no benefits to the county in and of itself other than the chance to be designated an opportunity zone by the DCA.
“This will go to the Department of Community Affairs where they will vote on whether or not they will accept this enterprise zone,” said Heiskell.
The DCA will next convene to vote on such issues in February.