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Enterprise zone could spur business

An enterprise zone that could spur economic development in Rogue River, Butte Falls and the Tolo Road area north of Central Point could be formed by early summer.

The special zone would create tax incentives for businesses seeking to locate within its boundaries and open the way for the communities to seek economic development grants.

"These projects mean a lot to these communities," said Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith. "We're looking forward to bringing good family wage jobs."

Businesses that locate in these areas would have property taxes frozen for three years. After three years they would be assessed at the normal rate of taxes, benefitting local governments.

Commissioners told staff members Wednesday to prepare a resolution supporting the enterprise zone for their meeting scheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 28 in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., in Medford.

The zone includes three separate areas that together total about six square miles, according to Jackson County planners.

In Butte Falls, the area is located south of Butte Falls-Fish Lake Road where it meets Laurel Avenue on land that is zoned forest resource and residential.

The Tolo Road area is generally bordered by Interstate 5 on the south side and Blackwell Road on the north side on land that is currently zoned exclusive farm use and open space.

In Rogue River, the area within the enterprise zone includes much of the downtown area. It is bordered on the west by Pine Street and extends to the south end of town along East Main Street. It also includes other land within the city on the west side of the Rogue River. The land currently has various zones, including commercial and rural residential.

The Oregon Community and Economic Development Department is expected to make a decision on the zone by July.

Two manufacturing companies and one high-tech company already have indicated their interest in locating in Rogue River if the zone is approved, said Laurel Prairie-Kuntz, Rogue River planner.

She said she couldn't disclose the names of the companies, but added, "We're dealing with people who have a lot of money."

Prairie-Kuntz said the enterprise zone would provide a big incentive for companies to move to Rogue River, and there has already been more interest in lands that could be included in the zone.

"People have made investments in Rogue River in hopes the enterprise zone will go into effect," said Prairie-Kuntz.

Butte Falls School Superintendent Steve Pine said his community wants to build a plastic injection manufacturing facility to make bottles for the 300,000 gallons of water that come from the springs every day.

"It's waiting to be tapped as a tremendous resource," he said.

In addition, a biomass plant is planned for Butte Falls, he said.

"It's an impoverished community in need of some economic viability," Pine said, noting that 68 percent of the community is considered in the poverty zone and 73 percent of the students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Ron Fox, director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., said Combined Transport of Central Point has sent a letter indicating it might build a center in the Tolo Road area.

SOREDI, which oversees a similar economic zone in Josephine County, would manage the zone in Jackson County.

Fox said a similar enterprise zone in Medford has resulted in an investment of $117 million in new buildings and equipment in the past nine years, creating 1,300 new jobs. Almost 40 companies, including Boise Cascade, Sabroso, are involved in the zone.

Fox said the enterprise zone could qualify for economic and development grants that are funded with money from the Oregon Lottery.

Kelly Madding, Jackson County's community development director, told commissioners that the maximum distance between areas of an enterprise zone is 25 miles. However, the distance from Rogue River to Butte Falls is 31 miles.

She said the county will ask for a waiver for this requirement, noting that preliminary discussions with state officials indicate this shouldn't be a problem.

The enterprise zone application must be sent to the state by April 6.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour, who has spearheaded the effort to create the Tolo Road high-tech corridor, said the new commercial and light industrial hub could eventually become part of the city of Central Point.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.