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Financial peril looms over The Point

SOUTH POINT – Congressman Ted Strickland and leaders of The Point industrial park are circling the wagons to make sure Empowerment Zone money is in place for the site’s continued development.

Monday, March 11, 2002

SOUTH POINT – Congressman Ted Strickland and leaders of The Point industrial park are circling the wagons to make sure Empowerment Zone money is in place for the site’s continued development.

Strickland toured the facility Friday in an effort to see first-hand how EZ money aids the county.

Strickland, who has toured the site throughout it’s development, said he was excited to "see the potential" the industrial site brings to Lawrence County and wanted to get an update from area officials on how the project is progressing.

The Congressman said he wants to facilitate discussions among the Ohio delegation in Washington on the importance of keeping EZ money in place.

Funding for the Huntington-Ironton Empowerment Zone could be in jeopardy if a plan proposed by President Bush makes it to next year’s budget.

The empowerment zone was designed to inject $100 million in federal funding over the next 10 years. The monies were to be used to compliment seven areas of regional progress – human resource development, infrastructure systems, workforce development, job creation, developing industrial sites (including The Point), regional tourism projects, and transportation of people and goods.

The President’s plan calls for the elimination of 15 empowerment zones in urban areas, stating that tax breaks and other incentives are a more effective way to promote economic revival.

This proposal is a turnaround in Bush’s policy just a year ago, however. Then, the administration requested $150 million in grants for empowerment zones. Congress approved $45 million of the request.

Administration budget writers, in text accompanying the proposal to eliminate the grants, said tax incentives are available to the communities and there is no convincing evidence that adding grants makes the program more effective.

When the plans were announced in February, Strickland called the idea of cutting empowerment zone funding, "a terrible decision that is not justified."

Strickland said EZ money was promised to the communities and it would be "tragic" to cut the money after it had already been promised.

Strickland added that the President’s decision to cut the promised monies "borders on the shameful."

Strickland said The Point’s already developed infrastructure – its location next to the Ohio River, and its already developed rail system – makes the industrial park a natural place for industrial development. Strickland said once the industrial park is completed, The Point, could be the "brightest spot for economic development in southern Ohio."

Strickland said the leadership for The Point is coming from the local community, adding his job is to make sure federal dollars are in place to continue developing the site.

Democrat senator Paul Wellstone, from Minnesota, has also promised to fight the Bush plan.

”There is no way in the world I’m going to let this happen,” he said. ”The Senate will spend many, many, many, many hours on this if they try to do this. I’m absolutely determined to stop them.”

The EZ program started in 1994, when the Clinton administration began the first round of urban empowerment zones.

The half-dozen cities in the first round under Clinton received their $100 million, 10-year grants up front, so they will not be affected by the budget cuts.

But Bush proposes eliminating money for 15 cities in the second round – from Boston to Minneapolis to Santa Ana, Calif. Now in the fourth year of the planned 10-year grants, each of those cities has gotten $22 million so far.

The other affected empowerment zones throughout the nation are: New Haven, Conn.; Miami/Dade County; Gary/East Chicago, Ind.; St. Louis/East St. Louis, Ill.; Cumberland County, N.J.; Columbia/Sumter, S.C.; Knoxville, Tenn., and Norfolk/Portsmouth, Va.