City wants to establish Enterprise Zone

Published 8:49 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009

FRANKLIN—In an effort to lure more businesses to Franklin, the City Council approved a resolution Monday night allowing the city to apply for an Enterprise Zone designation through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Enterprise Zone designation is a state grant program to help distressed localities competitively market commercial and industrial areas for new investment.

“We’ve applied four or five times,” said Mayor Jim Councill. The city was never designated an Enterprise Zone, but Councill said that current economic conditions make the city a better candidate for the program than in the past. “We’ve lost a lot of prospects because we didn’t have one and (businesses) were looking specifically for an Enterprise Zone.”

According to Tommy Miller, business development manager at Franklin Southampton Economic Development, the city is offering Pretlow Park, portions of Downtown Franklin and areas along Armory Drive between College Drive and Route 58.

The DHCD will designate up to four new Enterprise Zones statewide for 2010. The state will provide a job creation grant and a real property investment grant and the city will provide incentives to help lure businesses to the city, should the city receive the Enterprise Zone designation.

Proposed incentives offered by the city include discounted purchase of city-owned land, utility bill reductions and tax reductions and exemptions.

“All of these are forgone revenue, nothing is out of the general budget,” Miller said. City Manager June Fleming said that she was reluctant to approve of anything that would cost the city money, but she endorsed the proposed incentives.

“You can’t not spend money and attract business,” she said.

In the past, the city applied for an Enterprise Zone designation jointly with Southampton County, but leaders from both communities decided that it is best to apply alone this time.

“(Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson) and I talked about it and we decided that it was best for us to go alone,” Fleming said. “They are not a positive impact on our application and they acknowledge that.”

The governor has the power to designate Enterprise Zones. Miller said that he couldn’t comment on how likely Franklin is to receive the designation.

“Ultimately, the application process is up to the governor and his administration,” he said.