Help on way?

Published 4:36 am Monday, February 9, 2009

By By Kerry Whipple Bean – publisher
Gov. Bob Riley's proposed tax credits for businesses are a “piece of the puzzle” that can get the economy moving again, local economic development officials said.
In his state of the state address Tuesday, Riley proposed two tax credits for businesses - a back-to-work tax credit of $500 for employers who hire an Alabama worker currently on the state's unemployment rolls and a targeted job creation tax credit of $1,500 over three years to create jobs in the areas of the state with the highest unemployment.
Nine businesses in the Coastal Gateway region - a partnership of five counties, including Escambia - were planning to expand their workforce before the economy took a steep slide late last fall, Blankenship said.
Blankenship said Riley's proposed tax credits can help such local companies create those jobs - but businesses also need a market for their products.
Another piece of the puzzle is the economic stimulus plan - a mix of tax cuts and spending - making its way through Congress. The U.S. House has passed the plan, but Senate negotiators have been debating some of the spending proposals.
Marshall Rogers, director of the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority, said the governor's incentive proposals will help Alabama compete with other states.
Blankenship said he is also going to Washington next week to meet with two of the region's Congressional representatives about extending and expanding the tax credits under the federal Renewal Community program, which gives businesses incentives - $1,500 per employee - when they locate in and hire employees who live in designated Renewal areas.
Escambia County is currently not in a Renewal Community area, but other counties in the Coastal Gateway region - which also includes Conecuh, Monroe, Clarke and Choctaw counties - are.
Taken together, Blankenship said the stimulus plan and a series of tax credits and business incentives can eventually help grow jobs in the area.
In December, Escambia County had an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, the 21st highest in the state, but among the lowest in the Coastal Gateway region.
Monroe County has lost about 800 jobs in recent months in layoffs and plant closings, while there have been smaller layoffs in Escambia County.