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For the first time in 20 years, James City County will not have a state incentives program to help attract businesses to the area.
The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development announced its five selections for enterprise zone designations Monday, and the county and City of Williamsburg’s joint application was not among them.
Virginia Enterprise Zones are designated areas within a municipality in which tax incentives, grants and fee waivers and reductions from both the state and local governments are offered to lure businesses. A limited number of enterprise zones throughout the state run concurrently, and localities are chosen as designations expire.
James City County has been a part of the VEZ program since 1996, when it was chosen as part of the state’s business incentives program for a 20-year period. That designation expires at the end of the year.
In the joint zone, the county’s designated areas would have remained largely the same – parts of Grove and Toano – while the City of Williamsburg wanted the incentives for the Northeast Triangle and Midtown areas.
Russell Seymour, the JCC’s economic development director, said the county hoped its success with the enterprise zones – particularly since it was expanded to include parts of Toano about four years ago – would compel the state to accept its latest application with the city.
The state gives heavy consideration to the distress levels of the applicants. While the city has a mid-range distress level, the county’s is low. Both Seymour and City Economic Development Director Michele DeWitt said they believed the low distress score outweighed the county’s strong history with the program.
“It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the designation again, but the county will remain very proactive and aggressive about going after new businesses and keeping existing ones,” Seymour said. “This is a good place to do business, and that won’t change.”
Seymour said his office has been planning for the possibility of its enterprise zone’s expiration, and plans to look into ways of offering its own programs so the county can be just as successful without the state’s help.
Any plan the economic development office draws up would need approval from the Board of Supervisors.
While the city had been hopeful the state would accept its joint application, it recognized the designation as a longshot from the start. At its August retreat, City Council added the creation of a redevelopment incentives plan “with or without enterprise zone approval” to its priority list.
“We’re very disappointed that we didn’t get it,” DeWitt said. “Based on the input from City Council at that retreat, we are looking at ways the city can do incentives on its own.”
DeWitt said she would start by taking a look at the local incentives the city outlined in the enterprise zone application to see if anything could be adapted without the state incentives. She would also look into whether the city can create a zone of its own, similar to the Arts District it established a few years ago.
The incentives plan would need City Council approval.