Empowerment Zone can still help region

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 19, 2003

Tribune editorial staff

When it was initially designated by the federal government, the Huntington-Ironton Empowerment Zone was envisioned as a 10-year, $100 million project to bring jobs to the region.

On Tuesday, EZ leaders met to discuss an update to the entity's strategic plan. Some things have changed in the last five years - most notably the question of whether or not all of the expected funding will be available. Launched under the Clinton administration, the future of the Empowerment Zone has been in jeopardy because of the lack of support by the Bush administration. Congress approved the fifth year of allocation in February, and the Huntington-Ironton Zone has been allocated $1.9 million for 2003-2004. Bills are being introduced for 2004-2005 and could be adopted later this year.

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When the Empowerment Zone was created, it was expected to receive $20 million in the first two years. Five years into the project, the Empowerment Zone has received $22 million in grants. Nevertheless, the scope of the project should continue to follow its original six priority areas: "human resources, infrastructure, developable sites, job creation, community collaboration and workforce development."

How can this happen if funding is cut? By utilizing what resources are available wisely, and by using tax credits, which are supported by the Bush administration.

The Empowerment Zone already has three viable projects in the works that could bring a significant amount of jobs to the Tri-State - The Point Industrial Park in South Point and Kinetic Park and Pullman Square in Huntington, W.Va. Ensuring these projects make it to fruition is critical. Therefore, future funding needs to be allocated to these projects.

Until additional money is in place, we need to finish what we've started. If and when more funding becomes available, the Empowerment Zone can look at new projects - such as downtown development in Ironton and Huntington.

While we want to see the region flourish, we must not bite off more than we can chew. Some goals are best to be set long term.