GUEST COMMENTARY: Enhanced enterprise zones bring jobs, growth to community

Friday, May 4, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:14 a.m. CDT, Friday, May 4, 2012

Enhanced Enterprise Zone critics in Columbia are guilty of fear-mongering, race-baiting and promoting The Big Lie.

Here’s The Big Lie: An Enhanced Enterprise Zone will lower property values and allow the city to use eminent domain to seize property.

The Truth: An EEZ is a state of Missouri economic development program already used in 119 other communities, creating no controversy or hardships. Regional Economic Development Inc. has one purpose in studying EEZ and taking it to the Columbia City Council. The goal is to create stable, good-paying jobs.

Without evidence to support their claim, the fear-mongering critics repeatedly say that values will go down on properties located within an EEZ because they are designated "blighted" by state statute. In fact, if the state statute had used the word "beautified" rather than "blighted," the effect on private property would have been the same: None.

Top appraisers in Columbia have stated they do not consider an EEZ-designation when making appraisals. The Columbia Board of Realtors checked with both the National and Missouri Board of Realtors and with their counterparts in Missouri communities that have EEZs. They found no instances in which EEZs had any effect on property values — good or bad.

The race-baiting occurs when critics tell our black community that an EEZ will bring urban renewal. Understandably, there is considerable angst in Columbia’s black community about urban renewal because of projects that occurred several years ago. However, an EEZ has absolutely no connection to urban renewal.  No zoning or local property regulations are changed in any way by an EEZ. The black community is being deceived at the potential expense of new jobs that could help its under- and unemployed.

REDI has been labeled a “business lobby,” which is another lie. REDI is unashamedly a "jobs lobby." Attracting and helping create jobs is REDI’s entire mission, the reason it was founded. Without an EEZ, REDI remains handicapped. Those other 119 EEZ communities in Missouri have an advantage over us, as do several of our neighboring states.

When the issues surrounding EEZ first came up, I attended some Columbians Involved and Invested in Columbia (CiViC) meetings. At the first one, I observed the audience and thought to myself, "This crowd looks a lot like me, tending toward the senior side of life, mostly homeowners and not likely to be misled." I was wrong.

At the second meeting, I realized the people orchestrating the sessions are not like the audience. They are no-growth business-haters who really don’t give a hoot about blight or the good of the community. They just want to create an issue to use against various candidates in Columbia City Council races. They are the real elitists, looking down on businesses and working people.

At a recent meeting, I tried to explain to a CiViC leader that an EEZ is simply about helping local businesses expand and new businesses locate here.

Based upon the way the EEZ has successfully functioned in the past in other communities, an EEZ in Boone County poses no harm to anyone or their property. Instead, it promises opportunity for those who need jobs.

When I drive by a new business and see employees’ cars in the parking lot, I take satisfaction in knowing those employees get paychecks that enable them to feed and house their families. Not everyone is so fortunate. Do we turn our backs on the unemployed because a few people are willing to use the proposed EEZ as a political weapon, knowing they do so at the expense of the people they pretend to protect?

Bob Black has served on the REDI Board for the past seven years and as chairman for two years. He is the chairman of the EEZ subcommittee of REDI. He currently serves as director of corporate development at Nanoparticle BioChem Inc., a start-up company in the MU Life Sciences Incubater. He served as the director of business development for the Missouri Department of Economic Development from 1987-1992 and as assistant city manager and economic development director for Columbia 1973-1987.

Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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linda green May 4, 2012 | 8:41 a.m.

CiViC has always said that EEZ does lead to eminent domain, not
directly, but indirectly, because the land has to first be officially
designated as "blighted", and it's the blight designation that does open 
the door to eminent domain.  Mr. Black's leaving out this fact is grossly

And if he is going to claim EEZs lead to jobs, to be fair and
honest, he needs to give statistics to prove this claim, including how
much in tax income the city has given up in order to create each job.
Also there is often a huge cost to the city and taxpayers to build
infrastructure resulting from new development--often not taken into
account when figuring costs to the city.

Also, people who live close to downtown in middle income neighborhoods
should be very concerned if their properties are designated "blighted",
as they may have difficulty selling their house for its true value,  and
they may decide not to remodel their house for fear it will be taken from them.
Thus a good neighborhood termed "blighted" is likely to actually begin
to decline. Realtors should be worried because this will affect their
ability to sell residential properties.

 And "blight" is the first step also in demolishing public housing, as
has happened in other places.   The public housing neighborhood around
Park Avenue and Blind Boone Center was formerly called "Sharp End",
which was demolished and rebuilt about 60 years ago, ending the lives
of many black-owned small businesses in that area and disrupting the
mostly black community there.  This is remembered bitterly by many and
the fear it will happen again is well founded.   More recently, in 2006, there 
was an attempt to apply a "blight" designation to Park Avenue,
which would indeed have been the green light for this neighborhood to be
demolished again. (In fact, a local professional building inspector, in 2006,
reported the public housing apartments on Park Avenue as well built and in
very good shape despite their age.)

If REDI does truly want to create jobs, there are plenty of other ways
to do it, rather than devaluing existing properties in neighborhoods
in Columbia.

Also, REDI's quickly pushing the EEZ through the City Council as a "resolution",
which did not properly allow for citizen input, was contrary to City Charter.
This resolution needs to be rescinded, since if it is let stand, it sets very bad
precedent for future issues to be treated the same, weakening the citizens'
power to have time to be informed on issues and to give input. The EEZ/blight
resolution and the EEZ Board created thereby must be rescinded by the City Council.

For more information, see /

(Report Comment)
Dan Goldstein May 4, 2012 | 8:56 a.m.

Mr. Black, as chair of the REDI subcommittee that created the EEZ debacle, I fully understand your consternation at not being able to get it rammed through before people noticed. It is harder to defend in the light of day.

You make a good point that REDI investor Allan J. Moore, of Moore and Shryock, did a quasi appraisal and found that, the project it was invested in, would not affect property values. Another interesting question might be, of all the appraisers in Missouri, you could only get someone financially invested in REDI to provide this report? Wow, that's not very convincing to me.

And what about those jobs. Columbia has lower unemployment and higher median wages than all those other Communities with EEZ's. So why would we emulate them? How will we measure success, by increasing unemployment in the name of bought jobs, with kickbacks for REDI investors?

According to the last REDI report to council, state wide those EEZ jobs cost over $300,000 per job in lost state tax revenue. Revenue for things that make Columbia strong, like the University of Missouri!

No thanks Mr. Black. If the EEZ is such a good idea, then maybe you and the other REDI investors can buy some jobs for $300,000 a peice. Just leave me and my tax money out of it!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz May 4, 2012 | 9:41 a.m.

Mr. Black complains that those opposed to the EEZ have no evidence of their claims, but where is solid proof that EEZ programs create jobs? And at what cost?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 4, 2012 | 9:53 a.m.

"Race baiting" ???

Mr. Black's op-ed marks a stunning new low in the debate over this proposal.

That any educated person in the 21st century -- especially in a college town that prides itself, rightly or wrongly, on racial equity -- would stoop to such demeaning terminology is a real shocker.

Mr. Black is suggesting the white community is literally "baiting" the black community to come out against the EEZ/Blight Decree.

I thought this sort of racist rhetoric went out with the Civil Rights movement.

At its core, it suggests that black residents of Columbia are not smart enough, considerate enough, or discerning enough to make their own decisions, and require "baiting" -- which has its own demeaning overtones -- to become politically engaged.

The term "race baiting" also disregards the tremendous losses Columbia's black community suffered at the hands of past blight decrees and eminent domain abuse. It had a sweet, innocent name then, too: "Urban Renewal."

Mr. Black's unfortunate editorial suggests that this pain is nothing more than myth, used by "elite" white people to stir up angst among the black community at will.

Coupling the term "race baiting" with "fear mongering" only solidifies his intent, and reinforces concerns about the racial overtones intrinsic to proposals that rely on blight designations, and reflect their long and tragic history across Missouri.

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne May 4, 2012 | 9:55 a.m.

Mike Martin posted the following on a related story. His comments fit this op-ed as well

Not sure where you are looking for evidence of eminent domain abuse,but there is plenty of it,most connected with blight decrees tied up with whatever pretty bow local authorities wish to use. EEZ is the bow of the moment,but there are many others.

Missouri is widely regarded as the most abusive state with respect to eminent domain in the nation.

Blight designations in Missouri are the single most powerful first step toward the use of eminent domain. Blight became this powerful legal beast,as it were,with its incorporation into the early Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) statutes.

The rise of the LCRA in Missouri was a sort of second Jim Crow for black communities across the state,as their use against black home and business owners resulted in the wholesale destruction of property rights for several generations.

The EEZ statute is merely a 21st century update of the old LCRA,many believe an even prettier bow necessitated by political considerations. It was easy to steal land from black communities;it's much harder to steal land from white communities. EEZ is merely lipstick on the Blight pig designed to make the theft more politically palpable, the argument goes.

If you want evidence of eminent domain abuse,contact the law firm of Denlow and Henry in St. Louis,which specializes in it. Contact the Missouri DED ombudsman for property rights. Contact Missouri Citizens for Property Rights. And so forth. There are dozens of groups and organizations in Missouri dedicated to battling this problem, which happens in EEZ,TIF,LCRA,and other economic incentive zones that include blight decrees.

There are related stories below,including one about a documentary on Missouri eminent domain abuse aptly titled "Begging for Billionaires."

Law firms and organizations:

(Report Comment)
Kelly Veach May 4, 2012 | 9:59 a.m.

Mr. Black, you state..."Here’s The Big Lie: An Enhanced Enterprise Zone will lower property values and allow the city to use eminent domain to seize property."...and..."Based upon the way the EEZ has successfully functioned in the past in other communities, an EEZ in Boone County poses no harm to anyone or their property."

Mr. Black, after your second paragraph you never mention eminent domain again. Please ease my concerns and publicly state that eminent domain WILL NOT be used. Sir, eminent domain is a often a retirement nest egg thief and it DOES HARM the owner of the property. Please respond and/or clarify your position on this...I would like to hear it. Respectfully submitted, Kelly Veach

(Report Comment)
Carol Greenspan May 4, 2012 | 10:01 a.m.

John, the state statistics show each job cost about $300,000 under EEZs! With $300,000 how many police or firefighters could we hire? how many snowed in streets could we ploy? how many storm sewers or streets could be fixed? how many teachers could we hire? It's tax dollars that are being spent, tax dollars, yours and mine and every one else's that are the cost of these tax abatements.
And for each job, how many people's homes are being declared blighted? think of all those homes, large and small and the flowers (and vegetables) so lovingly planted this time of year... being declared "blighted."
There is no proof that "buying these companies" for a set number of years helps communities. If we are going to spend our tax dollars for them, we better know it's worth it and where is the evidence? jargon, slogans? not evidence.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders May 4, 2012 | 10:35 a.m.

Given REDI itself is an economic drain on the community (leeching off of OPM), any forecast made by its members require a total suspension of disbelief in order to even consider it.

In other words, debating the incoherent over the abstract is akin to pig wrestling. The only winning move is to not dignify their crime with a response in kind, but instead, point out their predatory nature to all, and simply move on. They will then be undone by their own sophistry, as their lack of value to the community becomes apparent to all.

(Report Comment)
Carol Greenspan May 4, 2012 | 11:06 a.m.

I find "interesting" that the original identification of the author of this piece did not disclose his involvement in this issue. Of course, some one involved can write an oped supporting their position, but they certainly should disclose their involvement.
Here's the original id from Mr. Black, "Bob Black is the former director of business development for the Missouri Department of Economic Development. He is a Columbia resident."
Compare this to that of the corrected id for him, just posted by the Missourian editor, "Bob Black has served on the REDI Board for the past seven years and as chairman for two years. He is the chairman of the EEZ subcommittee of REDI. He currently serves as director of corporate development at Nanoparticle BioChem Inc., a start-up company in the MU Life Sciences Incubater. He served as the director of business development for the Missouri Department of Economic Development from 1987-1992 and as assistant city manager and economic development director for Columbia 1973-1987."
Thanks to the Missourian for this correction. The difference speaks for itself.

(Report Comment)
Traci Wilson-Kleekamp May 4, 2012 | 11:32 a.m.

In my opinion, the City has failed to have 1) a transparent public process; 2) a real and substantive economic development policy discussion that includes alternatives and 3) professionally engage the electorate with community driven solutions.

The City has also not endeavored to engage in a public discussion on what other economic development tools exist nor have they offered a comparison/contrast to other ways to lure potential businesses to Columbia. As such, the City has failed to make the case that EEZ or TIF (tax-increment financing -- which is also rearing up) are the BEST and ONLY economic development tools available to enhance our local job economy. The data is mixed at best. I do believe it is possible for the council to develop a rubric (with the public's consent) of accountable incentives on a case by case basis. To recite that 119 other communities are using this tool is irrelevant. This is like quoting the same bible verse over and over again -- despite the context of the situation.

Mostly, don't believe the EEZ plan is to procure jobs. I do believe this is a controversial practice of subsidizing business that benefits those that have over those who don't. To leverage poverty statistics and claim that this ISN'T urban renewal -- will require considerably more engagement & data than simply Mr. Black's words/opinion that it isn't. The City has failed to discuss a viable economic development policy/process with its constituents and get their buy-in.

What is relevant is that the City has failed to have a process where an EEZ application could be vetted & discussed PUBLICLY in ADVANCE of an unanimous council vote to declare most of Columbia Blighted.

As a result -- this unvetted process -- with no advanced public discussion has citizens watching its elected officials leverage poverty census data & politicize economic development policy (subsidies) solely for the benefit (at least for the moment) of a couple of businesses who potentially want to come to Columbia.

The City has not hosted a public conversation on how we could collaborate & leverage resources in our own backyard to invest our human capital and create a competitive & retooled workforce for the changing global economy? The EEZ is one tool -- but why this tool? What others?

This whole process should stop. It should renewed with a transparent process and an open discussion of viable economic development policy & alternate tools. It should be led professionally without name calling citizens.

If they can reverse this arrogant process -- it may save them from the political wrath of constituents in the next election. It's really simple. Citizens of Columbia are furious with our elected officials for making public policy without them in the dark.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

(Report Comment)
Glenn Rice May 4, 2012 | 11:36 a.m.

Mr. Black, can you explain why the Osco property is not included in the EEZ boundaries?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 4, 2012 | 12:14 p.m.

RE: Carol's note on Bob Black's incomplete identification on these pages (I hope the print version is corrected, too):

Our journalists are too tolerant of conflicts of interest in the public sphere, precisely where they should be minimized.

A few examples include:

1) Trib publisher/editor Hank Waters pushing for eminent domain use against Bengals Grill in 2009 for a new Historical Society museum while serving on the Historical Society board of directors (and failing to disclose it).

2) Mr. Waters supporting the EEZ/Blight Decree while failing to disclose that his wife Vicki is co-chair of REDI.

3) REDI chair Dave Griggs getting flooring contracts with IBM after using his position with REDI to push for IBM's tax breaks.

4) Mr. Griggs getting flooring contracts with Columbia Public Schools after using his position with REDI to publicly endorse the school bond and tax levy increases.

5) City arborist Chad Herwald running his own arborist consulting business on the side -- Cambium Tree Experts, LLC -- and working privately with the same contractors he encounters on his public job. Comments I've received on this situation are troubling, to say the least.

6) Appraiser Allan Moore writing a report on the impact of blight on property values for REDI, when Moore is a REDI member and investor, something he failed to disclose.

7) REDI actively seeking appraiser-members who supported the Blight Decree/EEZ to write reports about it, and in doing so, violating the most important parts of the Appraisal Institute's Canon of Ethics.

These are only the conflicts we know about. I can't imagine how many more lurk behind the scenes.

Conflicts of interest in government are dangerous, and make the struggle for honesty and fairness all that much more difficult. Journalism's job should be to call them out whenever possible.


(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 4, 2012 | 2:18 p.m.

"Based upon the way the EEZ has successfully functioned in the past in other communities,"

Has it? Where? This information would be a huge boost to your position. Unfortunately, it's not clear that EEZ's provide any benefits (just as it's not clear that they are detrimental).

EEZ's have been around for a couple of decades. What's needed here is a scientific comparison of job growth and eminent domain in EEZ's vs. non-EEZ's. Until that has been done (and probably we never will) we can't really say whether EEZ's are really beneficial. And we really can't say whether they are detrimental either.


(Report Comment)
David Sautner May 4, 2012 | 2:25 p.m.

This scares me to death. What sorts of jobs would they be creating? Bio-weapons development? EEEEEk! I mean EEZ!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 4, 2012 | 2:54 p.m.

EEZ's have not been around for a couple of decades. The program was established in 2004.

EEZs are not without significant conflict and turmoil -- in other communities. Had REDI hired an INDEPENDENT consultant to review the EEZ program, it is likely much of this would have been revealed. But it wasn't.

These stories from Rolla's alternative newsweekly, No Standing News, describe significant opposition to virtually the same EEZ-related issues here in CoMo, blight and eminent domain abuse chief among them:

The City EEZ hearing wasn’t the last word after all
Advice to politicos: When they start having “No EEZ” tee-shirts printed up it’s a really bad sign

EEZ or nothing? Who decided the EEZ was our only choice?

The EE-Zealots strike again - Part 1
All of St. James now is officially “blighted”… Rolla next?

The EE-Zealots strike again - Part 2
The sloppy flaws in the EEZ resolution

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin May 4, 2012 | 5:03 p.m.

For people like Black enamored of blight-motivated tax incentive programs like TIF, EEZ, etc., read the sad history of the KC Power and Light District.




This is Columbia's fate writ large if things continue going the way they are.

(Report Comment)
Kelly Veach May 4, 2012 | 5:12 p.m.

Mr. Black, paging Mr. Black. You obviously submitted your article to the Missourian to educate and inform the public, but don't stop there. If you don't want to jump into a public discussion, I do ask that you call me, I humbly request more information from you. Kelly Veach

(Report Comment)

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