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State leaders tout GO Zone potential

Area economists, businessmen and elected officials filled theconference room at the Bank of Brookhaven Thursday to learn how theGulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 could benefit their region.

The meeting was one of five being held in the 49 countieseligible for GO Zone funding, said Steve Hardin, who hosted theevent for the Mississippi Development Authority.

“Through all the death and devastation, we have a wonderfulopportunity to rebuild on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said.

The federal legislation was passed by Congress and signed intolaw by President Bush in December. It provides federal taxincentives for areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Forty-nine ofMississippi’s 82 counties qualify for the incentives.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive DirectorCliff Brumfield said the program was “extremely interesting.”

“We’ve been watching the GO Zone since it was announced,” hesaid.

County industry recruiting efforts will immediately begin topromote the program’s incentives in its literature andnegotiations, Brumfield said.

“I think it will go a long way to helping us place our firstindustry in the new business park,” Brumfield said. “It has veryuseful tools to help us compete with many other areas of thecountry.”

State Treasurer Tate Reeves said he was proud to participate ina meeting with economists immediately following the storm to gaugeits impact and to discuss how to overcome the obstacles posed itsdevastation. Some of those recommendations led to the GO Zone Act,he said.

The economists realized the only way the Gulf Coast couldexperience a “renaissance” would be to create an environmentfavorable to private sector investment in Mississippi.

“This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Reeves said.”In many instances, these incentives could be the factor in a dealgetting done or not being done.”

Former Mississippi House of Representatives Tim Ford, nowgeneral counsel for the Mississippi Business Finance Corporation,said the GO Zone provides incentives in three areas – commercial,housing and state and municipal.

Commercial tax incentives provide for new investment, clean-up,repair and employee housing and retention while housing incentivescan make low- to moderate-income housing bonds tax exempt. Stateand municipal benefits allow for more public bonding authority andless stringent regulations on debt restructuring, he said.

“Each of you will have projects that are affected in differentways,” Ford said.

Many of the incentives can be combined in a project, hesaid.

The GO Zone incentives have a time limit to be activated, butmany of the benefits can last until 2010, Ford said.

“This was a very brief summary of some complicated legislation,”he said. “I don’t think I can express strong enough how significantthis piece of legislation is.”