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By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    Economic development will take a meandering path in Madison County the next 25 years, one that could best be appreciated by a bird.
    Land maps of proposed activity show enclaves here, pockets there, larger blocks elsewhere — all part of the expected growth that will accompany three newly approved enterprise zones in the county.
    The zones were authorized in legislation that took effect the first of the year, and a number of meetings are being held to acquaint people with the specifics.
    For places like the Tri Cities region and the Greater Alton corridor, there will be a continuation of what’s been in place for many years.
    But for southern and eastern Madison County, much of the growth will be new, all part of a plan by leaders in six local governments to take advantage of their wide open spaces. That potential is represented by the newest enterprise zone, called the Discovery Zone, and it includes portions of Collinsville, Glen Carbon, Maryville, Troy, Highland,  St. Jacob and unincorporated Madison County.
    The others include the previously existing Riverbend, Southwestern Madison County and Gateway Commerce zones. Madison County Community Development administers the zones and coordinated a joint enterprise zone application packet that was approved by the state. That effort took the bulk of last year to complete.
    Riverbend and Southwestern have been renewed for up to 25 years, while Gateway, which was formed in 1997, isn’t due to expire until 2027.
    “We had to develop a package that everybody could live with,” said Frank Miles, Community Development administrator. A lot of the zone areas overlap with tax increment financing districts, and a TIF takes precedence in terms of incentives. Communities had to come to an agreement on what kind of property tax abatements they wanted.
    An enterprise zone can also include sales tax abatement on building materials, investment tax credits, utility tax exemption and additional business assistance.
    Depending on where builders are buying their materials, the sales tax exemption could range anywhere from 6.5 percent to almost 12 percent. The deal is good anywhere in the state.

    Each zone has its own administrative group to decide such things as expanding or altering the zone. Traditionally, the management group is the mayors of each affected town and the chairman of the County Board.
    The Discovery Zone will be the subject of a public meeting, set for 6 to 8 p.m. June 7 at Triad High School in Troy. County officials are planning on staging several meetings — what they call Enterprise Zone 101 to familiar residents and officials with the incentives and the potential.
    Troy Mayor Al Adomite said the zone in his community runs pretty much along U.S. 40, Illinois Route 162 and Interstate 55 and connects to adjacent communities. Because the land involved is so large and the zone mileage so limited, the towns had to be pretty selective on the properties they believed should be included.
    “Six communities individually could never take advantage of an enterprise zone but working together we were able to get it done. From a regional cooperation standpoint, this enterprise zone is a good thing,” Adomite said. “It provides a meaningful impact on the bottom line for the construction of new commercial space.”
    The city of Troy just signed an incentive agreement for its first official occupant of the Discovery Zone, a business to locate along Interstate 55.
    E.J. Equipment, an equipment sales business, will be located in a planned $2 million building just south of Illinois Route 162 and the Pilot truck stop. The company, among many things, sells municipal street sweepers and serves the horizontal boring industry.
    The three newly approved zones will expire Dec. 31, 2030, with the potential for extension of another 10 years based on zone performance.
    Collinsville was one of the drivers of the new Discovery Zone because of the desire to develop Eastport Plaza. Essentially, all the communities included areas that they thought could become commercial hubs.
    The resulting map is pretty “wild looking. Wide in some spots, narrow in others,” Miles said.
    The zones can be up to 15 square miles. Most of those have room to expand to accommodate individual projects.
    The six communities in the Discovery Zone hired consultant Keith Moran to work on the application and a map.
    “We submitted some first-, second- and third-tier properties and worked to give as much balance to each community as possible. We only used 13 of the 15 square miles,” Adomite said. “If we have a project that springs up and the enterprise zone is right across the street, we can go to the five other communities and the county and say, ‘Hey, can you give us a little more here?’ I expect they’ll come up equally with their own opportunities as well.”
    According to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, statewide enterprise zones resulted in more than $2 billion in capital investments during the 2014 fiscal year. Those investments created more than 9,000 jobs and resulted in the retention of more than 14,000 jobs.
    Madison County Chairman Alan J. Dunstan said the enterprise zones are an essential element to economic development.
    “The enterprise zone program in Madison County has been particularly successful, providing the county and local units of government with the tools and incentives necessary to stimulate new business development and create jobs for our residents.
    “Without the benefits offered as part of an enterprise zone, we would not have seen the development of Madison County as the midwest’s premier inter-modal distribution center or numerous other developments that have created jobs and economically benefitted the county in many ways, such as the multi-billion dollar expansion at the Phillips 66 refinery,” Dunstan said. “Importantly, the enterprise zones also help us retain businesses.”
    The Gateway Commerce Enterprise Zone includes portions of unincorporated Madison County and the municipalities of Edwardsville and Pontoon Beach. The zone was designated as an Illinois Enterprise Zone area on Sept. 8, 1997.
    The Riverbend Enterprise Zone includes the municipalities of Alton, Bethalto, East Alton, Hartford, Roxana, South Roxana and Wood River, as well as parts of unincorporated Madison County.
    The Southwestern Madison County Enterprise Zone includes portions of unincorporated Madison County and the cities of Granite City, Madison and Venice.
    The city of Edwardsville, village of Pontoon Beach and Madison County Board last month approved an addition to the Gateway Commerce Center enterprise zone to allow Prairie Farms Dairy to move its corporate headquarters from Carlinville to Edwardsville. Prairie Farms Dairy’s plans to move to a new $9 million building in Edwardsville, were contingent on receiving enterprise zone incentives, city officials said.
    Prairie Farms Dairy plans to relocate 90 employees to the site, which is in Edwardsville Corporate Center, a business park along Interstate 55 and Illinois Route 143 that also houses the headquarters of Scott Credit Union and Hortica Insurance.
    The company is proposing construction of a three-story, 30,000-square-foot facility. Prairie Farms’ existing facility in Carlinville will remain open, according to a fact sheet given to the city.
    The very first zone was Southwestern, in the Granite City area, established around 1985 for a 20-year period, and later extended another 10 years. County officials were able to get a new 25-year zone by creating a zone that pretty much overlapped the old zone, with some minor additions. For instance, back in 1985 America’s Central Port was federal property. Now it’s part of the zone, at the request of the locals, county officials said.
    The River Bend Zone came about a year later and is almost a carbon copy of Southwestern in terms of incentives. At the time four-year property tax abatement was the selling point, and that remains in place today, although the abatement only involves the tax base of the city and the county, not the school systems, whose share of any abatement would be much larger. TIFs on the other hand, involve all taxing bodies.
    The Gateway Commerce Center Enterprise Zone was begun with 10-year property tax abatements, which are now ending for parcels that were subject of construction early on. New property tax has been pouring into the Granite City school district as a result, officials said. Years from now, the Edwardsville school district, which includes parts of the Gateway center developed much later, should see the same kind of impact.