State lawmakers support county’s EZ request

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, December 6, 2023

They said yes. After requests came in from officials in Charlotte, Lunenburg and Prince Edward counties, state lawmakers have filed a bill to extend the regional enterprise zone (EZ). 

Del. Tommy Wright, R-Victoria, said he jumped into action when he learned about the problem that would lower to 30 the number of statewide enterprise zones, where specific incentives and other deals can be made for economic development in the next 12 months. The problem is that the enterprise zone on the edge of Charlotte, Lunenburg and Prince Edward expires within the next year. Without state support, that could cause some economic problems, as we’ve spotlighted before. 

The counties have until the end of 2024 to get a five-year extension on the zone. 

Charlotte County officials agreed in our October report that the enterprise zone makes the region more appealing to prospective business and industry. 

Wright said he worked with county administrators Dan Witt of Charlotte, Tracy Gee of Lunenburg and Doug Stanley of Prince Edward to develop the legislation that will allow all 15 of the enterprise zones, including the local one known as No. 48, to be extended for another five years. 

“It’s gonna make all ones that are coming up for expiration be covered because if I was to put in a bill just for Enterprise Zone 48 and then the rest of them would be in a position where they couldn’t put and support it,” Wright said. So that’s the best thing I think we can do.” 

The bill for the 2024 legislative session that begins Jan. 10 adds another extension beyond the three now allowed under state law. 

“Upon recommendation of the Director of the Department, the Governor may renew zones designated on or after July 1, 2005, for up to four five-year renewal periods and zones designated prior to July 1, 2005, for up to two five-year renewal periods,” the bill states. “Recommendations for five-year renewals shall be based on the locality’s performance of its enterprise zone responsibilities, the continued need for such a zone, and its effectiveness in creating jobs and capital investment.” 

RUFF WILL ALSO SUPPORT BILL 

State Sen Frank Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, said he will offer the same legislation as Del. Wright on his side of the legislature. 

“I have talked to each of the counties involved,” Ruff said. “Obviously, localities should work together whenever possible. When resources are limited, this is more important than for more wealthy communities.” 

Wright said each of the county administrators were helpful in preparation of the proposed legislation and believes they can help with its passage. 

“I will try to have as many of the county administrators that are able to come and testify before the committee as to what the effect will be on their localities if they don’t have this enterprise zone status,” Wright said. “Of course, you know that it’s very important to localities.” 

Wright said the regional approach that joins the counties together in economic development efforts is something state officials encourage. 

“They have a really good approach where the three counties are involved,” he said. “I think we’ve got a good case to make and I hope it’ll work out because we certainly need all the help we can get for economic development.” 

Wright noted the incentives and special offerings is something the communities need to continue their efforts to attract new business and industry to the area. 

“It’s been a great opportunity to be collaborative and really have a regional approach to economic development,” Prince Edward Director of Economic Development and Tourism Chelsey White said in an October interview. 

‘IT JUST MAKES SENSE’ 

The state’s enterprise zone program creates a local and state partnership that encourages job creation and private investment, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development. In addition to incentives offered locally, it provides access to job creation and real property investment grants in the designated zones. 

In an October interview, Witt said “just makes sense to allow Zone 48 to retain its enterprise zone status for another five years.” 

He said the three rural communities are challenged to compete for industry. 

“We have higher poverty rates than the state average and less infrastructure,” Witt said. “Any advantages for development are most beneficial.” 

Gee said the Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors “is aware of the possibility of expiration of the zone and supports its continuation.” 

Work is underway at Heartland Regional Industrial Park to make it more marketable. 

“Once that is complete and utility capacity upgrades are considered, Heartland will be in a better position to compete if a competitive incentive package is also still available,” Witt said in an Oct. interview.