Empowerment Zone board focuses on jobs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Locally appointed overseers of the federal Ironton-Huntington, W.

Tuesday, April 04, 2000

Locally appointed overseers of the federal Ironton-Huntington, W.Va., Empowerment Zone grant’s millions will look to the future with an eye for job creation.

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That’s the message executive director Cathy Burns will deliver at the board’s meeting next week – one year after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the 10-year, $100 million grant.

"We have been very busy within the last year," Ms. Burns said.

Several industries in Huntington have taken advantage of tax credits and created new jobs. Ironton has found help with infrastructure and housing improvements. And the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation’s South Point industrial site is on its way to attracting clients.

"That’s not to say we don’t have room for improvement," Ms. Burns said.

"We are seeing job losses," she said, referring to Ironton’s loss of three major industries in the last year.

And today’s workforce is facing a new challenge – a technology-driven economy and the businesses it has spawned, Ms. Burns said.

But that’s where the next nine years of the grant will make a difference, she said.

"We’re certainly headed in the right direction."

Ms. Burns plans to unveil an overview of that direction at next week’s meeting, which is open to the public.

It will be held Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in the ballroom at the Grandview Inn in South Point.

Area agencies that have benefited from Empowerment Zone dollars, as well as local officials who have taken part in Empowerment Zone activities, have been invited to display exhibits of projects from the last year.

Ms. Burns also will start the meeting with an overall summary.

"Job creation certainly has been a focus in the region," she said.

About 400 jobs have been created within the Empowerment Zone, mostly in West Virginia, although employees come from all parts of the Tri-State.

United Airlines, Filter Technologies, Productivity Point are just three companies that have expanded into the area because of Empowerment Zone help.

"We have partnered with the local economic development agencies," Ms. Burns said.

One of the Empowerment Zone board’s functions is to provide incentives, dollars and resources to organizations like the LEDC and local governments.

"That’s not to say we won’t help with job creation efforts," she said. "We were certainly offering what we could to help because Cabletron pulled out."

Instead, state incentives helped lead Liebert Corp. into the vacant manufacturing facility.

Within the last year, the board has organized itself, developed committees and contracted with more than 21 area agencies to meet its master plan – new development, new jobs and a prepared work force, Ms. Burns said.

The board has worked with Ironton officials on streetscape improvements, with the CAO and the city on the Marting Hotel housing project and with the LEDC on marketing and incentive packages for interested clients of its South Point industrial park – just a few of the accomplishments, she said.

Most other Empowerment Zone work in Lawrence County has centered on readying that site for occupancy and planning its use, although a literacy tutoring program has restarted in the Ironton area thanks to Empowerment Zone funds.

In Huntington, officials have worked with the municipal development authority, for example, primarily on a 30-acre business and technology industrial park at Hal Greer Boulevard and Interstate 64, Ms. Burns said.

That site will become home to Amazon.com in two years, she said.

The Empowerment Zone also will partner with other agencies and schools, too, to develop services, like a daycare center at Marshall University, Ms. Burns said.

And, again, there’s more development on the horizon, she said.