Phelps Co. EEZ

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PHELPS COUNTY - While the Columbia City Council struggles with the future of its enhanced enterprise zone advisory board, the communities of Rolla and St. James have had approved EEZ advisory boards for three years. Both small towns, the cities hoped to bring business to their industrial parks with the move. But after many months, success is limited.

Right now, the only occupant of a business park brought in by the EEZ is Lisa Liou's technology start-up which began in 2002 at Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla. A year ago, she finally wanted to expand and moved into the park.

"It was time for me to build a building. To put everyone together, to work together," said Liou.

Cyndra Lorey, director of Rolla Regional Economic Commission, oversees both the EEZs in Rolla and St. James. She used the EEZ to keep Liou in Phelps County.

"They were really being courted by folks in another state. (The EEZ) allowed us to make a case, it makes sense for you to live here," said Lorey.

With the EEZ, Liou gets the land for free until 2013. If she has eight more employees by then, it will be remain free. If she does not, she will have to pay for the land. She also has a 15 percent tax abatement on the land.

Even though Liou has taken advantage of the EEZ, she is still the only one. No other business has come to Phelps County for the EEZ.

"What is your marketing plan to make Rolla look like a good place, they have nothing," said Mark Fleming, journalist and economic development expert who lives in Rolla.

The EEZ met a lot of controversy in 2009 when the city councils passed it. There hasn't been much said since then, but there also hasn't been much done. Fleming said the EEZ is a positive thing, but just is being handled incorrectly.

Lorey acknowledged that the EEZ hasn't done much yet, but explained this is because of the economy. She also said getting a business to come is not simple, and that there are many components that go into finding the right company.

"As the economy improves, we are able to see, and we have been able to see a greater interest," she said.

Lorey said she is currently working with a big company, and believes there will be more progress soon.

Meanwhile, Liou continues to build and expand her business in Phelps County, where she has lived and worked the past 25 years.

"The EEZ is good because I can be here. But at the same time, I want to be here," she said.