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City offers Enterprise Zone benefits

Many local businesses eligible for voucher programs, tax credits

Posted: August 31, 2009 5:04 p.m.
Updated: September 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.
As the recession slows business growth, Santa Clarita city officials are encouraging an increasing number of businesses to take advantage of a state tax-credit-incentive program.

Businesses in the Santa Clarita Enterprise Zone, which covers 97 percent of the city's business-zoned land, are eligible for several benefits, including a voucher program that could save them $36,000 per employee over a five-year period.

"The community is really starting to take notice," said Laura Biery, an administrative analyst for the city's Economic Development Department, adding there has been "a noticeable increase" in the filing of hiring tax credit vouchers.

Employers can stand to qualify for a tax credit of up to $9,000 if an employee meets the requirements of the program, a feature of the Small Business and Work Opportunity Act of 2007.

The city has been trying to raise awareness of the zone since its 2007 designation, using workshops and commercials. And it has had some success.

To date, Biery said, 120 local businesses are taking advantage of the zone.

Last March there were 33 hiring tax credit vouchers issued, she said. That number has increased every month, and in June 69 vouchers were issued.

By comparison, when the city marked the first year of the enterprise zone in July 2008, 41 businesses had taken advantage of the credit program.

There are several categories for qualifying employees, including military veterans, laid-off workers and people who live in so-called targeted employment areas.

Valencia's Salt Creek Grille is one business that has benefited.

While the eatery doesn't have high turnover, owner Greg Amsler said some of his employees have qualified.

"It's definitely shown some dividends already," he said. "It's been very beneficial."

As part of the $5.1 million 21-point economic plan OK'd by city officials last spring, $50,000 is being spent on marketing the enterprise zone.

Several local business owners have gone on the record with video testimonials posted on the city's enterprise zone Web site, Biery said. In addition to print and radio ads, she said, City Hall is set to roll out several television commercials.

She said common feedback to the zone is along the lines of: "Why didn't I take advantage of it sooner?"

The economic crisis has presented a Catch-22 of sorts for employers. While they stand to benefit from the rebates, they are not as quick to hire new workers.

"Right now everybody's sort of hunkering down," said Tim DiTomaso of DiTomaso Incentive Group, who presented a city-hosted workshop on the enterprise zone last week to about 40 local business people.

While Santa Clarita promotes its enterprise zone, local businesses may also be able to take advantage of Palmdale's foreign trade zone.

The zoning designation focuses on import/export businesses, and Santa Clarita Economic Development Associate Andree Walper said she is researching whether local companies can participate.

"There's certainly some (Santa Clarita) businesses that could benefit," she said.

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