Macoupin County enterprise zone in jeopardy
By Rick Wade
Time is running out for Macoupin County’s Enterprise District because it will no longer exist unless the government entities that administer it take action soon.
That warning was delivered Jan. 14 by Shari Albrecht, executive director of Macoupin Economic Development Partnership, during the finance and economic development committee monthly meeting at city hall.
The reason for urgency is that a new state law passed in 2012 requires all existing enterprise zones to submit a new application by March.
“They will also accept applications for new zones. I know that three of your neighboring counties are partnering together to submit an application. It’s not guaranteed that Macoupin County’s enterprise zone will be approved,” said Albrecht. “As far as I know, no work has been started on the application, and I know there are lots of areas in the state that have been working on their applications for months now. This needs to happen immediately.”
Albrecht explained that the county’s enterprise zone was established in the early 1990s by the City of Carlinville, the City of Gillespie and the Macoupin County Board. Representatives from those three governments make up the enterprise zone management organization.
“By the ordinance that created it, any decisions that are made about the zone, within the zone, affecting the zone, have to be by unanimous decision of those three entities. Traditionally it has been the mayors of those two communities and the Macoupin County board chairman, with the board being the keeper of the records and organizers of the zone activities,” she said.
There is currently no zone administrator, which has created a lot of undone work, she said.
“This needs to be handled as soon as possible. We routinely get requests for information about the zone. There is no one to ask, no one making decisions about the zone. My suggestion is that the management organization gets together as soon as possible, and discuss the options.”
Albrecht said she is meeting Jan. 17 with the county board’s recently appointed economic development committee head Bob Vojas about the topic.
Mayor Robert Schwab said he is the Carlinville representative for the management organization. Typically, he said, it is the county that calls meetings, and takes the initiative on enterprise zone activities.
According to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s website, “The Illinois Enterprise Zone Act was signed into law Dec. 7, 1982. The purpose of the Act is to stimulate economic growth and neighborhood revitalization in economically depressed areas of the state. Businesses located (or those that choose to locate) in a designated enterprise zone can become eligible to obtain special state and local tax incentives, regulatory relief, and improved governmental services, thus providing an economic stimulus to an area that would otherwise be neglected.”
Albrecht said with any type of industrial or large commercial recruitment or expansion project, an enterprise zone can make a county competitive. “If the management organization chooses not to reapply, the enterprise zone will cease to exist,” she said.
Finance committee chairman Dave Steiner said he will put discussion of the enterprise zone on the agenda for the Jan. 21 city council meeting
A prospective anchor store, known as “Company C,” for Carlinville Plaza will be making another site visit this week, Albrecht said. “There will be a company representative touring the Plaza buildings, and putting together an updated costs list for what needs to be done as far as rehabbing, what their needs are,” she said. “Central Realty is preparing a draft development agreement that would be between the city and the owners of the Plaza. They hope to have that to you by next month for your review.”
Once a tenant is in place, said Albrecht, it will be determined how the business district and TIF program be used in the process of rehabilitating Carlinville Plaza.
Other MEDP projects
Albrecht provided details of a couple other big economic development projects MEDP is working on.
Because of confidentiality agreements, Albrecht was unable to mention the actual names of the businesses.
“Project Vitality” is an existing distribution company in Carlinville looking to create 15 manufacturing jobs. “We’ve been working with them to get the project details together in the last month. That has been submitted to the State of Illinois. I have a conference call tomorrow with a state official. We are looking for some financial incentives to help them. At this point, there’s nothing I can see that would come from the city. It would be between the company and the state, with MEDP acting as a go-between.”
Albrecht said the company is looking to expand its local facility, creating jobs within the $30,000 to $35,000 range, with benefits.
Another Carlinville company, “Project Data,” is also looking to expand. “We’ve done a retention visit there, and I’ve brought in a representative of the state. It looks like they are going to need some legislation at the state level to help this company. Basically Illinois’ minimum wage is higher than neighboring states, so it makes it harder for him to compete. What we are looking at is sponsoring legislation that will give a preference to Illinois companies in order to level the playing field and keep their contract in Illinois.”
A third existing Carlinville business, “Project IH,” is looking to expand its operation outside the county, but that would “strengthen their market base and operations here,” Albrecht said. “I am working with the company and my counterpart in a neighboring county to put something together.”
Albrecht said over the holidays, she met with the Chicago representative of a Washington, D.C., group named Transportation for America. “Their mission is to enhance transportation and help find funding. We are on their radar screen because of the high-speed rail and Amtrak station upgrade. The Amtrak stops in Illinois are a priority of theirs,” she said.
“Once the Amtrak station is upgraded, and the high-speed rail is coming through, everybody anticipates an increase in ridership. They wanted to talk to me about what transportation issues we are going to have in Carlinville. My idea is that we want to enhance the visitor experience between the station and the downtown business district, West Main and the Square.”
Albrecht said she worked with Alderman Jan Best to send TA a copy of the city’s ITEP grant, to show the group that the city is already working on funding to upgrade its downtown area. “This is kind of a Plan B should your ITEP grant not be approved this year. I think you would certainly want to keep the look consistent down West Main, so it is one transportation corridor to your business district.”
Albrecht said just that morning she had received an e-mail from the governor’s office indicating that the ITEP grants had not yet been awarded.
Another topic she discussed with the TA representative was how to get rail passengers from the station to downtown and back, including a trolley or a brightly painted public transit vehicle.
“This is all very preliminary and a long shot, but it’s a conversation that is going to continue,” Albrecht said.
Albrecht said her assistant, Courtney Wood, has been assisting a small businessman who wants to open a dry cleaner in the community. “We’ve been assisting him with a site search and financing options, and it is proceeding. He has a consultant, working with a local lending institution. As soon as he knows where he’s at we’ll be moving forward with that.”
Wood is also working with a potential book store owner, assisting him with a site search and partnering opportunities, Albrecht said. “He is looking for a younger person with an entrepreneurial spirit who would work under him, and eventually take over the business, or a compatible business with which to share a space.”
A Missouri businessman is also working with MEDP to open a flooring business in Carlinville. “He’s already located a site. We don’t have an opening date yet, but he has indicated he’ll be bringing 15 construction-related jobs with him,” she said.