Officials hope tax incentives will lure manufacturing and jobs to Wilsonville

by:  JOSH KULLA - The former Joes headquarters on SW Boeckman Road is one of five sites targeted by the city of Wilsonville's TIF zone. Wilsonville city leaders view manufacturing and technology as the future of the city’s economy.

In a nutshell, that’s why the Wilsonville City Council, acting as the city’s urban renewal agency, voted unanimously in favor of a resolution that creates five tax increment financing zones on individual pieces of property containing large warehouse facilities.

“I think I originally raised the concept of a single-site urban renewal district during some of the discussion around (SoloPower), and that generated a fair amount of debate and discussion at that time,” Councilor Richard Goddard said, referring to the 2011 debacle which saw California solar manufacturer SoloPower commit to moving to Wilsonville, only to find that public opinion was not in favor of the move. SoloPower ended up backing out of its plans for Wilsonville and moving to a north Portland factory instead.

“Maybe that concept was ahead of its time,” Goddard said. “But with much discussion and much work by staff, you know, tonight we’re not only approving that property but four other sites as single-site urban renewal districts. I thought it was a good concept then, I continue to think it’s a good concept now.”

Approved by voters in March, and Sept. 5 by the city’s urban renewal agency, the resolution marks the culmination of work done by a city economic development task force. The TIF zone concept uses a similar funding mechanism as a standard urban renewal district. But it also provides property tax incentives for companies who invest in one of the five properties and create above-average wage jobs.

Each TIF zone would rebate up to 75 percent of increased property tax increment for three years for companies that invest at least $25 million in capital improvements or equipment and create 75 or more new full-time jobs paying at least 125 percent of the average Clackamas County wage. Each zone could last up to 10 years.

In concept, the idea is similar to Oregon’s “enterprise zone” concept, which has been used to help blighted communities across the state. Wilsonville, however, does not qualify for an enterprise zone because it is not considered economically disadvantaged under state criteria.

Properties that are currently included as TIF zones include the former corporate headquarters of Joe’s on Southwest Boeckman Road, the former Nike distribution center off Southwest 95th Avenue, the former Ikon distribution center, also off Southwest 95th, the 250,000-square-foot Wilsonville Distribution Center on Boones Ferry Road and a former Hollywood Video distribution center just off Elligsen Road near Argyle Square in north Wilsonville.

Wilsonville Urban Renewal Manager Kristin Retherford noted at the Sept. 5 meeting that unlike traditional urban renewal districts, there would be no public debt involved.

“Our debt consists of the companies and the rebate mechanism,” Retherford said. “We will not be borrowing for these zones.”

The future of urban renewal in Wilsonville also is being placed up for public debate in the coming months. An urban renewal strategic task force will begin meeting this fall, with the first meeting set for Sept. 25. Additionally, there will be an Oct. 17 open house to discuss an upcoming urban renewal strategic plan.

The TIF zone concept also is gaining traction at the state level.

“I’m hearing economic development folks at the state level are taking interest in our approach and are talking about applying it on a broader level,” said Mayor Tim Knapp. “Is that true?”

“Yes,” responded Retherford, adding that she has been asked to speak about the program with state officials on several upcoming occasions. “I think they’re interested in the fact it targets specific buildings and isn’t just a blanket zone.”

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