‘A tremendous help’

Published 8:53 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

FRANKLIN—After years of trying unsuccessfully to be granted an Enterprise Zone designation, Franklin and Southampton County will receive a joint designation in 2010, likely due to the impact of the closure of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill.

“The Enterprise Zone program is an important economic development tool in bringing investment and jobs to Virginia’s distressed communities,” Gov. Tim Kaine said. “With the loss of more than 1,100 jobs in the area due to the closing of International Paper, we believe the zones will be a valuable tool for attracting new businesses to this area and supporting the expansion of existing businesses.”

Kaine made the announcement Monday. The designation allows each locality to use state and local enterprise zone incentives to create new jobs, promote private investment, and support the overall growth of the local economy.

The state will provide job creation and real property investment grants and the localities will provide other incentives, like the discounted purchase of government-owned property, utility bill reductions and tax reductions and exemptions.

“It’s not going to be a silver bullet,” said Tommy Miller, the small business development manager for Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. “It’s going to help us market the community better.”

Miller said incentives like the ones available in an enterprise zone make the area much more competitive for new or expanding businesses, and could mean the difference between a company locating here versus another community.

“It will really catch the eyes of companies,” he said. In the past the two communities have filed joint applications, but this year two separate applications were submitted. However, a joint zone was approved.

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill said the designation gives the region “another very important tool for economic development.” He also said he was grateful that the city and Southampton County were considered together, given the regional approach to economic development moving forward.

Councill said the city’s application was submitted this past summer, before IP announced it was closing the Franklin mill.

“It just makes it that much more imperative,” he said.

Jay Randolph, Southampton’s assistant county administrator, said he is “very pleased” with the designation.

“Things like this are really going to help our chances of bringing in new businesses and industries,” he said. “We’re very confident that this will help jump-start the job creation process.”

Like Franklin, Southampton County had already submitted an enterprise zone application before the IP announcement. Lisa Perry, Isle of Wight County’s director of economic development, said Kaine was asked to amend the standing applications to include the revenue sharing district, including IP, in Isle of Wight County.

“It doesn’t look like he honored that request,” Perry said Monday afternoon. “I’m very disappointed. We could’ve really used that to further market the real estate left there.”

Hollie Cammarasana of the Department of Housing and Community Development said the area couldn’t be considered because Isle of Wight hadn’t filed an enterprise zone application.

However, Isle of Wight likely wouldn’t have qualified for the designation before the IP announcement. All localities in the state were evaluated and received a distress score, with 750 being the highest, to help determine their need for an enterprise zone. According to the DHCD, Isle of Wight had a distress score of 143 compared with Southampton’s score of 336 and Franklin’s score of 578.

Despite the fact that the actual mill property isn’t included, Perry said the designation is “great news for the city of Franklin and Southampton County.”

“They worked very hard on that application,” she said.

Franklin City Manager June Fleming said the designation makes the city “much more attractive” to companies.

“It will be a tremendous help, with what’s happening at the mill,” she said.

Miller said the process “isn’t over,” and the DHDC will come in and help administer the enterprise zone.

In Franklin, Pretlow Park, portions of Downtown Franklin and areas along Armory Drive between College Drive and Route 58 are included in the enterprise zone. In Southampton County, the zone includes property in the Southampton Business Park, the future Turner Tract industrial park and an area from downtown Boykins to the town of Branchville.

Kaine also announced enterprise zones in Portsmouth, Staunton and Prince George County.

The designations are awarded based on a competitive application process and will be effective beginning Jan. 1, 2010.