Columbia’s economic development leaders are officially asking the Columbia City Council to effectively drop the effort to create an enhanced enterprise zone, or EEZ, in the city.
The Regional Economic Development, Inc board of directors voted Wednesday to recommend the city council rescind its ordinance that created the EEZ advisory board. The advisory board was working on an effort to create the zone, which would create economic incentives for businesses locating in that area. REDI board member Dave Griggs says the vote was unanimous.
“The bottom line reason is the community does not think an advanced enterprise zone is a good idea,” Griggs said.
The EEZ was originally proposed more than a year ago, prompting a negative response from many community members for a variety of reasons. Many were concerned about the requirement that areas be deemed “blighted” to be included in the EEZ. Among the opponents was Mary Hussmann with Grass Roots Organizing.
“Well a couple of my friends called and said, ‘Are you sitting down?’” Hussmann said.
She says she was thrilled to hear REDI was stepping back on the plan.
“People could just not feel at all comfortable about this. There were so many questions. When a few of those questions were able to be answered, it seemed like it just raised more questions,” Hussmann said.
REDI President Mike Brooks says after gathering community response, the board’s decision was clear. But he says this could make it more difficult for Columbia to compete, as many surrounding communities have EEZ’s.
“If a project comes down to having an enhanced enterprise zone and not having one then we’re gonna lose the project,” Brooks said.
Brooks does, though, hope Columbia can find other ways to attract businesses – such as through Columbia’s workforce or infrastructure. And, he says REDI did learn a lesson here.
“Well, sure, anything that’s going to require the understanding of the community to appreciate the value of something, we’re going to have to do a better job of reaching out to the community on the front end of this project instead of after it gets started,” Brooks said.
The Columbia City Council, of course, will have to act on REDI’s recommendation for the process of investigating an EEZ to end.