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Brooksville's enterprise zone expands

Business leaders have expanded a state incentive program intended to entice more businesses to invest in poverty-stricken areas.

Currently, no Hernando County companies are participating in the state enterprise zone program, which gives tax credits to businesses located in low-income areas, if they hire employees who live in the same area.

In fact, in the program's nearly three-year history, only one company, Sun Fiberglass Products Inc., has qualified for the economic development program that county leaders had hoped would help bring jobs to south Brooksville.

In late 2002, county and city leaders agreed that the solution to make the economic development program more effective was to widen the geographic boundaries. That way, more businesses and more people located in other low-income areas could participate.

The old zone was 1.3 square miles, encompassing most of south Brooksville. It was one of the smaller zones in the state, said business development director Mike McHugh.

Last year, the Legislature expanded Hernando's enterprise zone boundaries to encompass 3.7 square miles of land. The new boundaries, which were roughly expanded west from Main Street to Mobley Road and southwest to Wiscon Road, took effect on Saturday.

"No companies are currently receiving benefits, but we believe that will change with this new boundary amendment," McHugh said.

In the old enterprise zone boundaries, 62 business parcels would have been eligible for incentives. Under an expanded zone, 252 additional business parcels are now eligible, including the new Wal-Mart Supercenter, Publix and Winn-Dixie, if they hire new employees who live within the enterprise zone.

Poverty rates decide which areas can participate in the tax incentive program. The new area includes a census block where 36.5 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line, making it the second-poorest census block in the county. Those borders extend north to Fort Dade Avenue, west to Ponce de Leon Boulevard and south to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The other new census block included in the expansion is the least poverty-stricken census block in the zone, with 21.5 percent of residents living below the federal poverty line. That area includes those living within the borders of Mobley Road, W Jefferson Street, U.S. 41 and Wiscon Road.

The entire state program is set to be automatically repealed by the end of this year, unless the Legislature expands it during the 2005 session.

Enterprise zone state coordinator Burt Von Hoff said a state Senate committee is looking into possibilities for the program.

Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (352) 848-1434 or libertosptimes.com.

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