EDA considers tech zone

Published 10:41 pm Friday, April 10, 2009

Despite the fact that they rejected the idea once before, members of Suffolk’s Economic Development Authority will once again consider setting up a technology zone in the northern part of the city.

During its meeting this week, the authority discussed potential boundaries for the zone and some possible incentives to offer qualified companies that agree to open there.

State law allows Virginia cities, counties and towns to establish technology zones to attract growth in targeted industries, Director of Economic Development Cindy Cave told members on Wednesday.

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Locally, the city of Franklin has such a zone, and others have been established in Arlington, Roanoke, Russell and Smyth counties, as well as the cities of Charlottesville, Falls Church, Hampton, Harrisonburg, Lynchburg and Winchester and the towns of Front Royal and Kilmarnock. Virginia Beach, she said, has an ordinance allowing the establishment of a technology zone, but no areas of that city have yet been set aside for one.

Cave suggested that Suffolk consider an area bounded by Bridge Road, the James River, the Nansemond River and Suffolk’s eastern border for the zone.

To entice tech-related businesses into that area, she said, the city could consider offering free or reduced-cost business licenses, depending on the company’s annual gross receipts.

Authority member Arthur Collins suggested that such an effort could be combined with an effort to provide broadband Internet service in the area.

“The real value is to give incentives to provide broadband,” he said. “That’s gold.”

Member Dwight Nixon seemed to have some interest in a possible incentives program, but he suggested that it be tailored to be of special interest to small businesses.

“I’ve always been an advocate to (small) businesses,” he said. “But some businesses are pulling out of the city, because taxes are too high.”

Cave’s suggested incentives — a 100-percent credit of business license fees for qualified businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $50,000 and a 50-percent credit for those with gross receipts of less than $50,000 — were patterned after those offered by Charlottesville.

Other communities offer rebates of utility taxes and building permit fees, payments for jobs created or capital investment grants, according to information she presented with her proposal.

Members asked Cave to return at their next meeting with data showing how successful the technology zone programs have been in other communities.