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Extending the enterprise zones

Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 5:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 5:40 p.m. CDT

A bill that would add 10 enterprise zones to the 97 already in existence in Illinois and extend their lives an additional 25 years is working its way through the Illinois Senate.

Sen. Michael Frerichs, (D-Champaign) introduced the bill Feb. 10, and Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) is a chief co-sponsor.

The bill moved out of the Enterprise Zone Extensions Committee of which Sen. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) is a member on April 19 and was placed on calendar order of second reading Tuesday.

Legislators created enterprise zones nearly three decades ago to stimulate business and industrial growth and revitalize blighted areas. The zones are active for up to 30 years. Under the proposed bill, their life span would extend to 55 years.

Locally, the Bureau/Putnam Area Enterprise Zone was established in July of 1987 and includes the area of Princeton, Spring Valley and Ladd in Bureau County and Hennepin, Mark and Granville in Putnam County. The zone was set to expire in July 2007 but recently qualified for an extension until 2017. 

Nora Fesco, executive director of the North Central Illinois Council of Governments, said many zones are due to expire in 2013, and she and zone administrator Ben Wilson have been actively working for three years to get legislation approved that would allow for the extension of the enterprise zones.

Fesco is on the board of the Illinois Enterprise Zone Association and said the organization has released an informational paper as to why the enterprise zones should be extended.

According to the paper, the Illinois Enterprise Zone Program has resulted in “over 345,000 new jobs created by businesses located in enterprise zones. Retention numbers for those workers jobs retained due to enterprise zone total over one-half million at 522,443. As far as investment in ‘bricks and mortar,’ businesses have chosen enterprise zones as a place to invest in new and expanded facilities. Businesses numbering 41,326 invested in zones over the first 28 years of the program. The dollar volume represented by those investments is nearly $50 billion at $47,442,781,860.”

Fesco said the numbers are also impressive locally.

In a letter she and Wilson sent to Frerichs and local Reps. Don Moffitt, Frank Mautino and David Leitch in March, the Bureau Putnam Area Enterprise Zone has been instrumental in creating and retaining jobs and encouraging capital investment in the area. The local program serves both small and large business and has resulted in investment in the area totaling more than $1,420,296,94. Since the beginning, a total of 2,885 jobs have been created, and 3,142 jobs have been retained.

According to the letter, “We have seen the benefits to our local economy as represented by investments and job growth resulting from enterprise zone projects here that would not have taken place without the enterprise zone. Our local partners comprised of local units of government and taxing districts have partnered with the state of Illinois to make this possible, and we want this to continue.”

On Wednesday, Fesco said the bill is still alive, but it’s hard to tell whether it will pass both the Senate and the House, which has twice killed similar bills.

Fesco said enterprise zones are considered a partisan issue in the House.

“I can’t understand it,” she said. “Enterprise zones get confused with TIFs and corporate welfare, and people don’t understand they’re a locally-based incentive.”

Fesco said she is more confident this year than she has even been because the clock is ticking on enterprise zones in Decatur and Peoria, which would affect companies like ADM and Caterpillar.

“Their backs are up against the wall,” she said.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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