The city of St. Clair and the surrounding area now officially has another economic tool to draw additional business to the region.
City Administrator Rick Childers told The Missourian this week that the St. Clair Enhanced Enterprise Zone officially has been approved by state officials.
“I am pleased to announce that your application to establish an Enhanced Enterprise Zone within the city of St. Clair has been approved,” reads a letter from Acting Director Mike Downing of the Missouri Department of Economic Development dated late last week. “As a result, your community will be able to utilize this new program to support economic development efforts.”
St. Clair’s EEZ actually extends well beyond the city limits. It includes Parkway Village as well as land on both sides of the Interstate 44 corridor from Gray Summit to Stanton.
An Enhanced Enterprise Zone is an economic development tool designed to assist communities that qualify. It is based on demographic criteria that includes U.S. Census data, unemployment and poverty statistics and the presence of blight. In order to qualify, the unemployment rate in the targeted area must be higher than county and state figures, and 60 percent of the median family incomes in the zone must be lower than 90 percent of the county and state average.
Grey Jackson, economic development incentive specialist for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said during the application process that just slightly over 60 percent of those median family incomes in the proposed EEZ are lower than the 90 percent and that the unemployment rate in the area is 13.1 percent.
The zone works by supplying a tax abatement program for current businesses that want to expand or new businesses that want to relocate within the zone. The benefits apply only to those that qualify after the EEZ is established.
Language associated with the EEZ states that eligible facilities will receive a minimum property tax abatement of 50 percent for a minimum of 10 years. To qualify, the business must employ at least two new employees and spend a minimum of $100,000 in new investment for a new or expanding industry or $1 million for a replacement facility.
The local EEZ advisory board has established a maximum 80 percent abatement over 20 years.
Retail businesses do not qualify.
“The department of economic development is pleased to be able to support the city of St. Clair in its efforts to increase the availability of quality jobs in the region,” Downing said.
In all, there are 17 taxing entities and five school districts within the local zone.
Originally, the proposed EEZ included Sullivan and Pacific. Pacific officials opted out while Sullivan created its own zone.
“The city is very pleased to have this tool available to assist our businesses and community as we continue to grow” Childers told The Missourian. “We appreciate the help of the county, other taxing jurisdictions and the state in getting the EEZ formed and approved. We hope many businesses will take advantage of this opportunity.”
Franklin County officials supported the zone application throughout the process.
There already is one local business — River’s Edge — that is seeking to take advantage of the tax abatements for expansion purposes. The St. Clair Board of Aldermen approved a minor subdivision and a warehouse site plan in June.
The affected property is Industrial Development Authority land located in the St. Clair Business Park west of Highway 47. The newly relocated Interstate 44 North Outer Road provides access to the parcel.
The subdivision splits the tract of land into three parcels. Two lots are west of the North Service Road while the third is east of it. The expanding business, River’s Edge, is expected to use one of the western lots, which totals about 12.5 acres.
With the approval of the EEZ, the final piece of the puzzle should be an additional funding mechanism. A rescheduled city public hearing for a Community Development Block Grant application is set for 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday at city hall. The grant would be used for water and sewer extensions for the project.
The proposed warehouse will cover 100,000 square feet plus an office area. The warehouse measures 335 by 300 feet with an additional 60- by 76-foot attached office space.
River’s Edge currently is located along North Commercial Avenue. It plans to purchase the property where the warehouse will be located. The expanded facility will provide several new jobs.
During a public hearing on the EEZ conducted in the spring, Mayor Ron Blum emphasized the area’s need for growth.
“As mayor of this great city, I see a lot of struggles,” he said. “My duty is to try to improve the quality of life for the city and the surrounding areas. We need to create these jobs to help the people of our communities. That is the city’s and county’s responsibility.”
St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Angela Crawford was contracted by the city to help work on the EEZ application.
“The mission of the St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce is to be a catalyst for improving the overall quality of our community by serving, representing and enhancing business growth and success,” she told The Missourian. “By partnering with the city on the EEZ Designation we have touched on each area of that mission. We are pleased to have played a role in bringing this benefit program to our community and we are excited to see the growth it produces.”