If “jobs, jobs, jobs” truly are a priority — as they are for Gov. Rick Scott — then state lawmakers will enhance enterprise zones, instead of killing them.
If remaking distressed and blighted areas into productive economic engines is good for business, then legislators will, this last week of the session, realize that the program’s successes across the state far outweigh the instances where prosperity has been more sluggish in coming.
If lawmakers allow enterprise zones to expire at the end of the year, many neighborhoods in their own districts will lose out. Unfortunately, they seem prepared to be just that reckless.
On Thursday, House lawmakers passed an economic-development bill that allowed this neighborhood-rejuvenating program to sunset. On the Senate’s side, the situation is not much better. But there is still time for lawmakers to come to their senses, and members of Miami-Dade’s delegation should take the lead. After all, this county has made the most of enterprise zones, and has robust communities to show for it.
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Enterprise zones have been around since 1982, when a more-visionary Legislature realized that the state could partner with municipalities to halt the slide of what had been thriving economic centers. A recession was hitting hard. Manufacturing jobs were going away — far away. Without jobs, many residents had less money to spend, meaning less income for locally owned, and often minority owned, businesses.
Lawmakers fostered economic growth in distressed areas by coaxing business to take a risk and set up shop. In return, there were tax breaks for hiring locals, as well as for energy, construction and equipment costs, among others.
There are 65 enterprise zones throughout the state, in 52 counties. Miami-Dade, of course, has the largest, and the success is indisputable: Pulsating South Beach was fallow territory 30 years ago, so bad off that it qualified as a distressed area and was designated an enterprise zone; Blue Lagoon Corporate Park, near the airport, is home to a diversity of businesses; and Wynwood, a manufacturing hub before those jobs moved offshore, is being remade as a cultural and residential enclave.
In a letter to the editor, Larry Williams, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, wrote: “Miami-Dade County conducted a study using statistical data to assess the effectiveness of the program. The report concluded that businesses and residents benefited, not only from the tax rebates and credits received by businesses, but also from the new hires of EZ residents and the associated increase in consumer buying power.”
From 2011 to 2013, the report found, businesses located in enterprise zones paid $7.1 million in wages and received $1.8 million in tax benefits for creating 482 jobs.
Yet critics in the Legislature to dismiss this success. House Bill 7067 lets the enterprise-zone program sunset, then recreates it, solely at the local level. Cities and counties that opt in would have to waive business taxes and impact fees to entice businesses to local areas high in poverty. But without the state’s subsidy, it’s unlikely that many localities could easily give up those revenue sources.
Lawmakers in the Senate, too, would eliminate the program, though SB 1214 offers businesses new to the program a bit of an extension to continue to receive benefits. How kind.
Enterprise zones remain a forward-looking program that grows business. Legislators should look forward, too, and realize this program is worth saving.