REDI Will Present EEZ Process at Columbia City Council

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COLUMBIA - President of Regional Economic Development Incorporated, REDI, will present a report regarding the enhanced enterprise zone ordinance, or EEZ, to the Columbia City Council. An EZZ would provide state tax credits and local tax abatement for businesses that expand within an area that is deemed blighted by the state.

"Blight, according to the state, is high levels of poverty, high levels of unemployment, high levels of distress,"  chairman of REDI's board of director,s Dave Griggs, said. "It just means there's poverty, underemployment, ecnomic stress in the community. Additionally, you can go right across the street from my store and see boarded-up windows. Is that blight? In some peoples mind, yes, that's blight."

Griggs is the owner of Dave Griggs Flooring America off of Business Loop 70. This area is included in 60 percent of Columbia currently proposed to be an EEZ.

Both the declaration of blight and the proposed area have caused controversy throughout the city.

Mitch Richards is the treasurer of Keep Columbia Free, a group who, according to its website, is "dedicated to defending the Civil Liberties and Natural Rights of the citizens of Columbia, MO at the local, state, and federal level." He said the declaration of blight "reflects a psychological wound in the community, especially because Columbia is not blighted. We're regularly placed in something like the top 10 most livable cities in the nation."

Griggs said, "What REDI did to determine what would be eligible for an enterprise zone is there are several industrial areas we've targeted to use this benefit in. It's determined by census block groups."

DeAnn Walkenbach, a member of Columbians Involved and Invested in Columbia, CIVIC, said, "It adds a bad connotation to the city. I think it's not good publicity to the city at all."

Mayor of Columbia Bob McDavid disagrees and thinks an EEZ would bring manufacturing jobs to the city. He said, "We really want these manufacturing jobs, we're going to have to compete against other towns who provide the incentives and abatements that EEZs provide. Almost a third of the state is covered by EEZs."

"They bring manufacturing jobs, usually ailing manufacturing firms that need tax breaks to be made profitable, not innovative jobs that are creating good jobs," Richards said. "They often site 118 EEZs around the state. It just so happens that those communities that have those EEZs are among the poorest in Missouri, despite the EEZ and the wonders it apparently brings."

Walkenbach said she wants "the council to rescind the blighted map and start over with an ordinance that people have have their proper say at meetings." However, Walkenbach and CIVIC are anticipating the possibility the council will not rescind the map, and have started a petition to have the issue put on the ballot. The petition would need 3,666 legal city of Columbia voters' signatures to to do so.