The city of Albany has grown too big to continue participating in an enterprise zone meant to lure new or growing businesses to Linn County.
But that doesn't mean the city need do without an enterprise zone, one of the few tools economic developers have at their disposal. At a recent work session, the Albany City Council gave the green light to city staffers to start work on identifying a site for an enterprise zone within the city limits.
Although the specific details vary from zone to zone, in general an enterprise zone offers tax concessions, infrastructure incentives and reduced regulations to attract investments and private companies. In exchange, companies typically agree to expand their workforce and to stay put within the zone for a certain amount of time.
The enterprise zones are limited to a total of 15 square miles and tend to be oriented toward industrial uses. The thinking is that, although a government entity might forego some tax revenue for a time, the increase in the local workforce helps to make up for the loss. (Since the enterprise zones tend to attract industrial companies, the jobs attached to them often pay well.) And the tax incentives tend to phase out over the years, so the property tax base eventually grows.
Albany has been part of the South Santiam Enterprise Zone, which includes Millersburg, Lebanon, Tangent and parts of Linn County. But Albany's population now is more than 50,000, so it's considered a metropolitan area and can longer be part of that zone. (The enterprise zones must be renewed every 10 years, and work is underway among the remaining partners to renew the South Santiam zone, an encouraging development, especially after Lebanon officials initially expressed some misgivings.)
But there's nothing to prevent Albany city officials from working toward developing an enterprise zone of their own. And that creates a number of potential opportunities, if city leaders are willing to keep their options open.
We'd suggest that city officials be fairly specific about how they'll measure the success of the enterprise zone — a process that would require some thought about what exactly Albany wants from the zone. Does the city want more industrial jobs? Does it want to encourage a certain type of industry?
At the same time, you don't want to set the framework so tightly that it ties the hands of the economic development officials who do the heavy lifting when it comes time to luring new businesses into the zone. Jobs get added to local economies in small bursts, two or three here, a half-dozen there. It's rare to come into the office and to be greeted by a voicemail reporting that, say, Microsoft has decided to locate a new campus in the mid-valley, and would we mind a quick infusion of 500 jobs? (Actually, considering the state of the mid-valley's housing market these days, such news might create some problems.)
But we digress. Our point is that you want to be sure the enterprise zone offers enough flexibility so that it's an effective tool for economic officials.
In addition, Albany will want to think about fashioning its enterprise zone in such a way that it works in conjunction with the rejiggered South Santiam Enterprise Zone. A business owner thinking about moving her business might react well to the prospect that two zones are available for relocation.
It's a good thing that the city is moving ahead with its enterprise zone plans, and we were pleased to see the council's decision. But some additional work now — a bit of deeper thought and discussion and an intention to make this more of a collaborative process — could make this a terrific thing, not just for Albany but for all of Linn County. (mm)