Houston County Development Authority works on special zones for business

WARNER ROBINS — The Houston County Development Authority is continuing its work to create “opportunity zones” in the county and to have a 667-acre tract of land certified by the state as an industrial/commercial park.

Morgan Law, the authority’s executive director, said Wednesday morning that he has worked with Middle Georgia Regional Development Center staff to identify portions of the county that would be eligible to be included in opportunity zones.

Basically, creating opportunity zones is a tool cities and counties can use to designate areas for industrial growth. If approved by the state, businesses that locate there qualify for state tax credits.

That would be a big boost for Houston County, now listed among the state’s most affluent counties at the Tier 4 level. In Tier 4 counties, new businesses only get tax credits of $750 per job they create, and the business must create at least 25 jobs to qualify.

But within opportunity zones, the tax credits increase to $3,500 per job, and only two jobs have to be created for a company to qualify. And the jobs can be in a wider variety of businesses, not just industrial.

In addition, any of the opportunity zone tax credit not used toward Georgia corporate taxes can be used in the withholding tax, which is not available in the tier system tax credits.

To qualify as an opportunity zone, an area must be located in a census block where 15 percent or more of the residents are at or below the poverty level, or be in a census block adjacent to the poverty level zones.

That qualifies nearly all of the unincorporated area south of Ga. 96, Law said.

But the county won’t try to have every qualifying area designated an opportunity zone. Law said he has worked with Steve Engle, the county’s director of administration, to overlay the county’s comprehensive future land-use maps with the opportunity zone eligibility map to begin to identify the areas to be included in the county’s request for creating the zones.

“The county already shows a swath of current and future industrial use from Frito Lay on Ga. 247 along the 247 Spur to the Cemex mining area south of U.S. 341, so that is the area we want to concentrate on at first,” Law said.

He said the area along Interstate 75 south of Perry also was considered, but it is still designated as residential and agriculture in the future land-use plans, so it likely wouldn’t be approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs if it was included in the county’s application.

Law said he’s also working with Warner Robins and Centerville to identify possible opportunity zone areas in those cities. Each municipality must have its own plans and applications for opportunity zones.

“Warner Robins is definitely looking at the area north of Robins Air Force Base where the G-RAMP project is proposed, and at the Foy Evans Industrial Park to the south as opportunity zones,” he said.

Perry received notification Tuesday from the DCA that its request for opportunity zones has been approved, Law said, and the 667-acre industrial park site the development authority owns off Perry Parkway just south of the Perry-Houston County Airport is included.

Law said the RDC staff has been busy with another project but should be able to begin assisting the authority again later this month in preparing the various studies and reports required to have the tract certified by the state, which helps to attract companies to locate there.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.