Leaders hope to join area cities using Enterprise Zone investment tool

Beaverton Mayor Dennis Doyle got a call this week indicating a certain business would move forward with a building expansion if the city adopts a program that offers property-tax abatements to industrial businesses in designated areas.

Such is the allure and reputation of the Oregon Enterprise Zone program that businesses are anticipating its advantages before it's even been enacted.

'The community's already reacted in a positive way,' Doyle said. 'It's a very positive tool.'

Following a presentation and recommendation by city staff earlier this year, the City Council gave the go-ahead to pursue the Enterprise Zone program - already up and running in cities such as Hillsboro, Gresham, Portland and Fairview - for Beaverton.

The city is on track to apply for one of the four new slots the state program made available this year by the June 8 deadline.

While the parameters aren't yet solidified, the zone would likely apply to about 5 square miles in three or four industrial areas southeast and west of Central Beaverton. Zone boundaries don't have to be contiguous, but can't encompass more than 12 square miles. Furthermore, the two furthest portions of the zone must be within 5 miles of their closest points. The distance in Beaverton would be 2 miles at the most.

If the zone is approved, new and existing manufacturing businesses within the areas can apply for property tax-abatement incentives - based on at least $1 million investments in infrastructure and equipment - for three to five years. Retail, financial and construction-oriented businesses are excluded.

The program fits goals set out in Beaverton's Civic Plan, particularly analyses indicating the city needs 'additional tools' to spark industrial-related development in the city. The plan identified eight census tracts surrounding key industrial areas that qualify for the Enterprise Zone designation.

Renewed industrial development, city officials believe, will lead to more jobs, investment and long-term city tax revenue.

'City staff and I are firm believers in building a tool set to help private business here grow and expand, and (the Enterprise Zone) is something new,' Doyle said. 'It's another step in the right direction.'

Alma Flores, manager of the city's Economic Development Department, worked with her supervisor, Community Development Director Don Mazziotti, on the Enterprise Zone concept soon after she joined the city 16 months ago.

'I immediately realized that was a tool that was not in place,' Flores said. 'I wanted to make sure that was something that could happen.'

In anticipation of the application deadline, she's working on details such as eligibility criteria and changes to the boundaries maps. Consultation meetings with local taxing districts, including Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, Beaverton School District and TriMet, are required, followed by a consent resolution by the City Council as well as the Port of Portland.

Feedback from consultation meetings and endorsement letters from businesses will be part of the application.

'Businesses that wouldn't mind using this tool, if they're ready to grow, then they can write a letter of support to show the demand and supply,' Flores said. 'The state likes to see there are businesses that would use the tool.'

The Oregon Legislature enacted the Enterprise Zone program in 1985 and increased the number of zones to 60 in 2005. Of the currently designated zones, 49 are non-urban and 12 are in urban areas. Reaching their 10-year limit, four urban Enterprise Zones are expected to expire on July 1.

The fallout from the global economic recession has prompted city leaders to explore innovative ways of spurring growth in the wholesale trade and manufacturing sector, which lost around 40 percent of its employees, according to city and state statistics. More than 14 percent of firms, representing nearly 15 percent of the city's economic base, were lost between 2003 and 2009.

Doyle, who worked with city lobbyists in Salem on an Oregon House Bill that expanded the number of Enterprise Zones, said he expects the program - which would go in effect on July 1 - will generate immediate interest among the city's industrial sector.

'I'm excited about it,' he said. 'Once it's approved this summer, we implement it and off we go.'

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