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.