COLUMBIA — Carol Shoemaker, coordinator of enhanced enterprise zones for the Missouri Department of Economic Development, facilitated a question-and-answer session with the public Tuesday following a brief presentation on the program's history and benefits.
Much of the public comment echoed questions that remained unanswered at last week's meeting between the Downtown Leadership Council and Regional Economic Development Inc.
Questions concerning blight
Citizens still expressed concern over the use of the term "blight." Although a distinct definition exists under Missouri state statute, Mike Brooks, president of REDI, said only two pieces of the state's definition were used to designate the "blighted" areas in Columbia: unemployment and poverty.
Yet Shoemaker said the definition of "blight" could be represented by something as simple as a cracked sidewalk or a vacant building. She continued and saidthat the census data used to determine "blight" in Columbia only examined Brooks' pieces of the definition, unemployment and poverty.
But Mayor Bob McDavid said that "blight doesn't really have a definition."
Citizens criticized the conflicting nature of these definitions and raised concerns about lowered property value and potential abuse of the blight decree.
"If the public believes there is a stigma attached to blight, property values will go down," said Brent Gardner, Columbia real estate agent and member of the Downtown Leadership Council.
Questions concerning proposed zone's outcomes
Citizens also voiced uncertainty that jobs created by the zone's incentives would benefit the areas used to meet requirements for blight.
For example, some of the low-income, high-unemployment areas encompassed by the proposed boundaries of the enterprise zone are located in the inner city of Columbia. But the targeted zones for industrial development — where the jobs would exist — are located near the outskirts of the city.
In addition to this, the public raised questions concerning job training for unskilled workers and what measures the city would take to ensure the employment of past felons.
"A contractual promise must be written up guaranteeing accessibility to these jobs for the people who need them most," commenter Joan Wilcox said.
Shoemaker reminded the public that she had no local authority and recommended these ideas be brought before the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board or another governmental body within the city.
When evidence for growth in economically depressed areas was requested, Shoemaker could not provide any quantitative data and recommended that the public contact the officials in one of the other 118 existing enhanced enterprise zones in Missouri for such information.
Enhanced Enterprise Zone Advisory Board meetings are scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on March 9 and 16 at the Daniel Boone City Building.