‘Creating enterprise zones on steroids:’ Va. delegate’s proposal to breathe life back into poorest areas

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bipartisan bill is making its way through the General Assembly that could help transform some of the most economically-challenged areas of the commonwealth.

Del. Will Morefield (R-Tazewell) introduced House Bill 222.

In front of a House committee last week, Morefield said the idea would be like “creating enterprise zones on steroids.” The committee backed the bill.

It would do two things.

First, give tax breaks to qualifying companies that agree to set up shop in some of the state’s poorest places.

The bill targets communities in Southwest, Southside and the Eastern Shore. It also includes the City of Petersburg.

To see the full list, read the legislation here. 

Companies that don’t currently have any existing property or payroll in Virginia could qualify if they spend at least $5 million in capital investment in one of the designated areas and create at least 10 new jobs, or if they create at least 50 new jobs. The jobs would need to pay at least twice the minimum wage.

There’s something in it for employees, too.

The second part of the bill would give those employees a pass on state personal income tax for 10 years.

Morefield said it would be a real incentive for the businesses and a recruitment tool for talent. He believes, if implemented, it would set Virginia apart from every state in the country.

“Give us a chance to have another tool to help some of the poorest localities in Virginia,” he asked the committee. “Because I can assure you — what we’re doing is not working.”

A matching bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 883, passed 29-11 Monday.

Morefield’s bill in the House passed its second reason Monday. A third reading and vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

Dave McCormack knows what it’s like to do business in one of the areas being highlighted by this legislation.

He is president of Waukeshaw Development, which has become known as a leader in revitalization and rehabilitation efforts in the Tri-Cities.

He said his company has invested $50 million into the City of Petersburg.

“When I got here, it was a ghost town,” he said.

His development company has created 13 businesses in the area resulting in more than 100 jobs, according to McCormack.

They are behind projects like Trapezium Brewing Co. and Demolition Coffee.

When plotting out where they will invest, Waukeshaw seeks grants, tax credits and other incentives.

He said the perks found in this bill could be attractive to other companies looking to get the most bang for their buck.

“I do think it’s very innovative and I think it would be a big help, especially in attracting talent,” he said. “That’s a very difficult thing — to keep talent in the area.”

McCormack said for years he has heard naysayers tell him something can’t be done in a challenging area.

But he’s also proved them wrong.

“When you do do it and you’re successful at it, it is a game changing thing for people,” he said. “You do that one successful project and all of a sudden a lot of other people starting thinking, ‘Well, shoot. I can do something there, too.'”

Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg) is one of 30 lawmakers listed as patrons of the HB222. There are three patrons for the Senate version.

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