New zoning to help revitalize Martinez
The new opportunity zone in Columbia County is giving new businesses a reason to make their way to the Martinez area.
In October of last year, Columbia County received approval from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), to designate economically deprived areas in the county, including the Martinez region, as a qualified opportunity zone.
“An opportunity zone is set up by the Department of Community Affairs for different communities for tax incentives for people to locate their businesses within the opportunity zone,” said Richard Harmon, the Columbia County Development Services director. “They will get so much money for each employee they bring in. There is quite a bit of criteria that the county had to submit to the DCA.”
It was the Developmental Authority of Columbia County that put the possibility in motion for the county.
“The Development Authority really did the legwork for that, but then they presented it to the county who then had to endorse it,” said county Administrator Scott Johnson. “We did, and we sent it off to the DCA, of course, then we found out we got approval.”
Although no businesses have officially moved into the area, the opportunity zone is looking to open two new businesses within its limits within the month. Aldi and a new discount tire store have both made their way to the region and will be the first businesses that the program will apply to.
According to Harmon, there has also been an influx of inquiries regarding vacant buildings in the program’s boundaries.
“I think once people know it’s here, people (will start) taking advantage of it,” Harmon said. “Especially new businesses that come in.”
Prior to the approval of Columbia County’s opportunity zone, it had been difficult for the Development Authority to make the program possible for the area.
“Due to the tier system in Georgia, it is hard for us to be competitive with tax credits and some other incentives that the state offers,” Johnson said. “This opportunity zone kind of levels the playing field for that particular area with tax credits.”
The incentives given by the state are based upon the size of the county and the amount of jobs offered within that region. Before the opportunity zone was approved in Columbia County, the administration had to find alternative ways to draw in new businesses.
“Certainly the quality of life is good here and we have a good work force in Columbia County,” Johnson said. “(But) this opportunity zone gives us the opportunity to offer more incentives.”
The program lasts for 10 years and the county can apply for renewal once the 10 years are up.
This is the first time the program has been approved in Columbia County; however, Richmond County has been approved at least three different times for opportunity zones at Laney Walker, Harrisburg and Rocky Creek, while larger chunks of land abutting Fort Gordon have been similarly designated as military zones.
According to Walter Sprouse, executive director of the Development Authority of Richmond County, those beneficial opportunities are often overlooked by the very businesses the zones were designed to attract.
“It’s up to the individual businesses to apply,” Sprouse said. “The county’s not going to write a letter — they’ve got fire departments to run and other things to worry about. But if you employ at least two people and you’re in an opportunity zone or a military zone and you’re in Augusta-Richmond County and if you have not taken advantage of these tax credits — that’s money that is flying out of your pocket as fast as it can.”
Sprouse said most of these zones aren’t really conducive to industry, though he does point at one of the businesses in on of Richmond County’s military zones is ADP.
“What do they employ — 1,100 people now?” Sprouse said. “Take 1,100 and multiply that out by $4,000 per job per year and take a look at what ADP is getting with state tax breaks.” You Might Also Like: