E-Zone status, a business magnet for Hood River


News staff writer

April 12, 2006

Hood River County Economic Development Coordinator Bill Fashing is vying for special tax breaks to attract more high-tech companies — and create new family-wage jobs.

He is hopeful the county will be chosen by state officials for one of six new “E-Zones.” The Electronic Commerce Enterprise Zones provide an added incentive for a business to move into an economically-depressed area.

Fashing said if the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department grants his request, qualifying firms will be exempted from property taxes for three years. The tax break on the new building and equipment can be extended for five years if wages exceed 150 percent of the county average.

“We have firms in the region that could benefit from this type of program. We are hopeful that it will serve as a catalyst for growth and expansion that brings more jobs our way,” said Fashing.

He said Hood River County qualifies for an E-zone designation because Cascade Locks has already been named as one of the state’s 49 Enterprise Zones. According to Fashing, the primary beneficiaries of that zone are manufacturing and industrial operations. Most commercial and retail outlets are ineligible for the tax breaks.

However, Fashing said by July 1 the state will have a total of 10 E-zones in place that provide technologically oriented businesses with the same benefits.

Both the City of Cascade Locks and Hood River County have each tried unsuccessfully to become one of the four existing E-zones. However, Fashing believes that “third time’s is a charm” and Gorge communities will gain that advantage now that six more E-zones are being added to the roster.

“This program is a tool to assist in our efforts to attract jobs and investment to the county,” he said.

In 1985, the OECDD set up the Enterprise Zones to encourage companies to move into areas where there was an economic hardship. Cascade Locks qualified in 1999 because it met two key criteria:

* The median household income is 80 percent or less than the state average.

* The unemployment rate is at least 2 percent above the state rate.

The 12 square miles allowed for an Enterprise Zone don’t have to be contiguous. So, in 2003, Cascade Locks incorporated almost all of industrial and commercial properties in the county within its 5.13 square mile zone.

Fashing said that move by Cascade Locks officials enabled Cardinal IG in Odell and Mt. Hood Forest Products in the mid-valley to set up shop more inexpensively. He said Hood River County and its two cities will have to re-apply for an extension of the Enterprise Zone in 2009.

Meanwhile, Fashing looks forward to hearing back from the state within the next 60 days on the E-zone application. He anticipates being able to use that designation in his continual pursuit for new employment opportunities.

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