Zone Expansion

by Susan Goracke, Grants Pass Daily Courier

Local businesses considering an expansion, or businesses looking to relocate here, could benefit from last week's expansion of the Grants Pass Area Enterprise Zone.

The Oregon Economic and Community Development Department has given its final approval for the city to expand its enterprise zone to all industrial and commercial properties inside city limits as well as in the city's urban growth area.

In addition, the Redwood campus of Rogue Community College, plus some Josephine County properties with industrial and commercial zoning, were included in the zone.

The enterprise zone offers property tax breaks to manufacturing and wholesale companies, plus service centers, motels and conference centers when they expand.

The tax exemptions last for three to five years on expansions that included buildings and equipment. In exchange, companies must sign an agreement to increase their labor force by 10 percent and use Grants Pass as the first hiring source.

The enlarged zone expansion puts Grants Pass one step closer to its goal of being named an Electronic-zone city, explained Charlie Mitchell, the city's economic development coordinator.

Such an E-zone would be in addition to the existing enterprise zone. If Grants Pass' application to become a new E-zone is approved, expanding businesses would get tax incentives on new computers and equipment related to doing electronic commerce.

In June, the state expects to name six more E-zone cities, bringing the state's total to 10.

"It's a very competitive process to get an E-zone," Mitchell said. "Medford has by far been the most successful E-zone in the state, and we would expect to see similar results."

One local business that could benefit from both zones is Fire Mountain Gems.

The company took advantage of the city's Redevelopment Agency funds when it created an industrial park along the Grants Pass Parkway in 2002.

Fire Mountain Gems had moved to Grants Pass from Cave Junction the year before when owners Stuart and Chris Freeman purchased the former Litton Industries property. At that time, the Freedmans brought 125 jobs with them.

Today, the wholesale gem business has about 400 employees and is looking to add about 70 more and build a 68,400 square-foot warehouse. The expanded enterprise zone, which now includes the Fire Mountain Gems property near the junction of E Street and the Grants Pass Parkway, offers the company tax incentives to move forward with its planned expansion.

Other local businesses that could benefit from the new zones are Diversified Collection Services and Visp.net, Mitchell said.

Applications from cities for the E-zone designation are due to the state by March 31.

Meanwhile, the city is soliciting letters of support from politicians as well as business and community leaders to convince the state that Grants Pass is a good candidate, Mitchell added.

The city's enterprise zone initially formed in 1997 to give tax benefits to Schrock Cabinets - now MasterBrand Cabinets. It has been enlarged several times in the past nine years.

The zone was expanded in 1999 to include Spalding Commerce Park, and in 2000 to include North Valley Industrial Park and several nearby properties.

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