Clayton County looks to create enterprise zone

Courtney Pogue

FOREST PARK — Clayton County and its cities could get together to form a countywide enterprise zone.

Courtney Pogue, the director of economic development for Clayton County, said the enterprise zone would be another tool in the county’s toolbox to bring jobs and businesses to the area.

Pogue said the county has had difficulty finding retail businesses to fill vacant space, which he said has cost the county somewhere between $300 million to $500 million in retail sales and 3,000 jobs.

The enterprise zone, Pogue said, would help encourage retailers to fill those vacant properties by luring businesses to the county. It could also help lower the county’s unemployment rate, which has seen improvements since hitting a low in 2008. That year, the workforce decreased from 136,000 to 124,000.

“We’re seeing progress and things are turning around,” Pogue said. “Unemployment is going down, and it should hit 5 percent by the end of the year.”

Between 2008 and 2010, Clayton County lost 12,000 members of its workforce, Pogue said, an issue he attributed to what he called a “triple whammy:” the Clayton County Public School system lost its accreditation, the recession, and the C-Tran bus service was discontinued in the county.

At Monday’s Forest Park meeting, Pogue said the workforce is around 129,000 people, which is still down from the pre-recession high of 136,000, but Pogue said somewhere between 800 to 1,000 people are being added to the county’s workforce each month.

According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, an enterprise zone is an area that provides several incentives for businesses that move to the area, such as different forms of tax breaks.

A business moving to an area designated as an enterprise zone could receive a discount on business license fees, building inspection fees, regulatory fees and property taxes.

Pogue said enterprise zones have been used in other counties in metro Atlanta, such as Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties to their benefit. He pointed out that an enterprise zone lured Porsche Cars North America to Hapeville and Atlantic Station to downtown Atlanta, as well as office development in Cobb County.

Pogue said Clayton County is the only county in the historic five-county metro area — Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, Clayton and Gwinnett — that has not taken advantage of creating an enterprise zone.

While the enterprise zone would be a countywide initiative, Pogue assured the Forest Park City Council that it would not compromise its governing ability in the city.

Al Wiggins, Forest Park city manager, said while the county would host the enterprise zone, cities could still determine the boundaries of the zone.

“Each municipality can determine the level of incentives,” Wiggins said. “We’d have to look at it a little closer and don’t want to provide incentives where they’re not needed.”

The Forest Park City Council did not take any action on being a part of the enterprise zone, but could make a decision at the next meeting. Pogue said he hopes to have a consensus from the cities by November, if not sooner, and then provide it to the Board of Commissioners.

No other city in the county has taken action on a countywide enterprise zone, but the Jonesboro City Council discussed the enterprise zone proposal at its work session Monday.

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