Localities mull zone changes

Published 8:53 am Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FRANKLIN—Southampton County and the City of Franklin are considering asking the state to modify the boundaries and incentives of their enterprise zones.

Charlie Passut | Tidewater News

Both localities will hold public hearings on the proposals this month. If approved, a request will be sent to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, which administers the enterprise zone program.

Enterprise zones are designed to attract businesses and jobs. Localities are required to offer incentives, like tax breaks, in addition to those offered by the state.

“We’re not doing a major overhaul,” Tommy Miller, business development manager for Franklin Southampton Economic Development, said of the proposed changes. “We’ll see if the state accepts them.”

Under the proposal, the acreage for all three enterprise zones in Franklin would be expanded. Southampton County, which currently has two zones, would add a third encompassing the Boykins area.

The county’s other two enterprise zones include 558 acres around the Southampton Business Park and 2,261 acres for the Turner Tract industrial area.

The three enterprise zones in the city cover the Pretlow Industrial Park, Downtown Franklin and the Armory Drive area. Under the proposed changes, the Pretlow zone would be expanded to 360 acres, the downtown zone to 103 acres and Armory Drive to 413 acres. The zones are currently 300, 79 and 346 acres, respectively.

Miller said the localities would also discuss a proposal to lower the amount of money a company would need to invest to take advantage of reduced machinery and tools taxes, electric utility taxes and electric rates. Companies currently need to invest $500,000 to qualify.

“We’re looking at dropping the dollar amount to probably around $150,000,” Miller said. “We’ll see if both the City Council and the Board of Supervisors are on board with that. Perhaps we can make it a little easier for small existing companies, startups and new businesses that want to locate in the area to qualify.”

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors and the Franklin City Council have public hearings on Monday, Oct. 25, to discuss the proposals. The county hearing will be at 9 a.m., the city hearing at 7 p.m.

After years of rejection, DHCD awarded Southampton and Franklin enterprise zones in December, just weeks after International Paper Co. announced it would close the Franklin paper mill, a major employer for both localities. The zones officially took effect on March 1.

Meanwhile, Isle of Wight County is moving forward with a plan to add more than six square miles in the southern part of the county to the Franklin-Southampton zone through legislation.

“We’re still doing research on our end over the specific language that would need to go into a bill,” county spokesman Don Robertson said Thursday. “We’re working with the state and legislators to make sure we’re not generically throwing something out there.”

The General Assembly begins its 2011 session on Jan. 12.

Robertson said Isle of Wight’s inclusion in the enterprise zone has the backing of state Sens. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk, and Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, as well as Delegates Bill Barlow, D-Smithfield, and Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt.

“They have all said verbally that they are very supportive of our efforts and will do whatever needs to be done to assist us,” Robertson said. “It will be a real bonus for Western Tidewater if Isle of Wight is also included.”

Franklin and Southampton officials, as well as Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng, support Isle of Wight’s inclusion.

The part of Isle of Wight County in question encompasses 6.37 square miles that are part of a 1986 revenue-sharing agreement with Franklin. The district includes the former IP mill.