Bounty of incentives will be offered in enterprise zones

Published 10:07 am Saturday, January 2, 2010

FRANKLIN—Both Southampton County and the City of Franklin will offer several incentives for companies to come to their localities, fulfilling their promise to do so with the state in return for being designated as enterprise zones.

Tommy Miller, business development manager for Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., said his office would be meeting with officials from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development sometime within the first half of January to finalize the incentives.

DHCD administers the enterprise zone program and requires localities to offer incentives in addition to those offered by the state.

“If we didn’t offer them we would have never received the state designation,” Miller said Wednesday of the local incentives. “They make us competitive and help us appeal more to businesses looking to locate or expand in our area.”

Years of futility

After several years of jointly applying for enterprise zones — and several years of being rejected — Franklin officials reckoned that their chances for receiving the designation would improve if they made a separate application in 2009.

But the city and Southampton ultimately received the designation on Dec. 7 for another reason: the impending closure of the International Paper Co. paper mill.

The local incentives

In addition to the job creation and real property grants offered by the state, Franklin and Southampton together will offer nine incentives to try and lure companies to set up shop. Two additional incentives are unique to the city.

Companies that make an investment of $500,000 or more and employ five or more people would receive a discount to electric utility taxes and, in the city, electricity rates. They would also receive an exemption from building code permit fees and would have their project plans “fast tracked” by county or city staff.

Southampton and Franklin would also attempt to provide three months of free temporary office space for up to five administrative employees while the company’s facilities are being built. After three months the company would be required to pay a fee and sign a lease.

Both the city and the county will offer industrial land they own at a reduced rate for companies investing $500,000 or more. Companies investing up to $1 million, $5 million or $10 million would receive discounts of $25,000, $15,000 and $5,000 per acre, respectively.

In an effort to improve existing buildings, companies performing renovations of $5,000 or more to structures that are over 15 years old are also eligible for a discount in real estate taxes. Qualified companies can also receive a 50 percent grant on machinery and tools taxes paid for a period of five years.

Other incentives include having Paul D. Camp Community College’s Regional Workforce Development Center provide job skills assessments at a reduced rate. The center would also provide complimentary assistance in hiring personnel.

Qualified technology companies — that invest $250,000 and employ at least 20 people — are also eligible for utility tax grants, fee exemptions and utility rate reductions, all part of a Technology Zone incentive that is exclusive to Franklin. The city established technology zones in 1996 at the Pretlow Industrial Park and at a 17-acre parcel at the corner of Armory Drive and College Drive.

Miller said the incentives “are what companies are looking for, and in this tight economy they’re looking for them even harder.”

The enterprise zones

Two areas in Southampton, two in Franklin, and a joint area between the two — forming a combined 3,544 acres — have been designated as enterprise zones, although the boundaries may be amended by the localities in the future.

In Southampton, one zone is the Southampton Business Park, which is located on U.S. Route 58 just east of Courtland and encompasses 558 acres.

Downtown Franklin and the Pretlow Industrial Park have been designated as enterprise zones in the City of Franklin. The downtown zone is 79 acres in size, while Pretlow is 300 acres.

The joint Southampton-Franklin zone begins along the east bank of the Nottoway River in the county and runs east along General Thomas Highway and into the city, where the road becomes Armory Drive. The joint zone totals 2,261 acres in the county and includes the Turner Tract industrial area, which is situated off Rose Valley Road. In the city, the Armory Drive portion of the joint zone is 346 acres in size.

Southampton’s original application with the state envisioned a third, 602-acre enterprise zone that would have included the towns of Boykins and Branchville.