*This story has been changed to indicate that the Enhanced Enterprise Advisory Board will meet next week but that it will be a few weeks before it submits proposals to the Columbia City Council and the Boone County Commission for approval.
COLUMBIA — Residents of neighborhoods included in proposed boundaries for two enhanced enterprise zones met with representatives of Regional Economic Development Inc. and the chair of a city advisory board Monday night to ask questions and offer their feedback on the latest version of the plan.
REDI board chairman Dave Griggs and executive vice president Bernie Andrews led the informational meeting. The 18 attendees included City Council members Gary Kespohl and Michael Trapp as well as representatives from five of the 15 neighborhood associations that were invited.
Griggs and Andrews explained the newest version of the enhanced enterprise zones and the benefits of EEZ to Columbia. Board members expect that EEZ will:
Allow Columbia to compete with other cities in Missouri for business bids.
Currently, there are 122 EEZs in Missouri. In relation to cities of Columbia's size: Springfield has four, St. Joseph has one, Independence has two, Jefferson City has one, and Kansas City has three.
The Enhanced Enterprise Advisory Board has been working since late spring to revise a proposal for creating the zone or zones, which would make some businesses that expand or locate within them eligible for state and local tax incentives.
A previous board was dismantled in May after the Columbia City Council heard considerable opposition from the public to a previous recommendation that would have placed a large percentage of the city and parts of Boone County in an EEZ. Opponents decried the declaration of blight that accompanies an EEZ, and they worried it would harm property values and prompt the city to use eminent domain to acquire private property for redevelopment.
The new advisory board has worked with REDI to produce maps for two proposed EEZs known as the north and south zones.
*The EEZ Advisory Board will continue to discuss the zone boundaries and the types of businesses that will be eligible for tax incentives. It's next meeting is 5 p.m. Oct. 17 in Conference Room 1B of the Daniel Boone City Building. The board's recommendations will be subject to public hearings and the approval of the Boone County Commission and the Columbia City Council City Council. Board member Jeremy Root said he doesn't expect commission or council action until after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Residents were invited to voice concerns throughout Monday night's meeting. One major concern was distrust between the community and the city. Several attendees referred to the Sharp End urban renewal project of the 1960s as the cause for their distrust.
"I'm feeling like we need to collectively talk about the history of displacement," North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association President Pat Fowler said. "We have that history, and it sits in the middle of every conversation we have."
Another concern Fowler addressed was the longevity of employment created by the EEZ businesses. Each business in Columbia would be required to hire 10 new employees, offer health insurance and pay for half the cost and pay 75 percent of the county average wage, which is currently $32,565. That equals about $24,500 annually.
Fowler's concern was that families will have difficulty living on less than $40,000 a year. She argued that public assistance would become a necessity and that a long-term plan for upward mobility would serve the community better.
There has to be a way that a city can create jobs and raise wages while not displacing people, Fowler said.
Residents also asked for data on other cities and their economic progress since their creation of EEZs. Several residents suggested that REDI provide more information about the process of establishing zones.
EEZs are established through the Missouri Department of Economic Development and must meet not only the requirements for a blight declaration but also certain demographic criteria. At least 60 percent of the residents of an EEZ must have incomes below 90 percent of the county or state median income, and residents collectively must have a level of unemployment greater than or equal to that of the county or state.
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