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June 14, 2013
Another View: Mend, don't end, enterprise zones

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(June 14 -- By Craig Johnson, Special to The Bee)

California's enterprise zone program has been a success in creating and retaining jobs for hundreds of thousands of individuals facing barriers to employment and has attracted investment to economically distressed areas of our state, particularly in rural and minority communities. It provides benefits to impoverished communities, as well as to veterans, the disabled and the long-term unemployed.

That said, enterprise zones are under attack and opponents have made no secret they want the program eliminated. ("California's enterprise zones credits are a farce"; Editorials, June 10). But that's the wrong approach if the goal is to keep Californians working.

There's always room for improvement in any program and enterprise zones are no different. But it is critical that businesses view California as a reliable partner. Businesses have relied upon commitments made by the state; each enterprise zone is designated for a limited, but definite, amount of time. To eliminate a program in the middle of its designation period undermines the state's credibility.

We support a number of thoughtful improvements to the program, including limiting retroactive vouchering, making Targeted Employment Area boundaries more targeted, ensuring that workers are protected during relocations, and precluding businesses that abuse the program from benefiting from tax incentives, to list a few.

We agree that businesses should not be able to fire and hire workers simply to get a tax credit. We believe that businesses relocating to enterprise zones must offer employment to all existing employees. Job retention during tough economic times is just as important as job creation.

Temporary workers are also a key element of our state's workforce, and in areas of high unemployment temporary positions are often gateways to permanent jobs. Many of them go on to full-time work they would not have had the opportunity to get had they not been able to get their foot in the door with a temporary position.

Eliminating entire sectors of job types from program eligibility is not only unjustified, but discriminatory. We need to make available as many jobs as possible for those who face barriers to employment.

We have given this some serious thought. And we've been honest with ourselves and with all businesses within California's enterprise zones. We understand there are criticisms of the program and its incentives, and we support efforts to make legitimate improvements that strengthen enterprise zones. With the right reform, we can preserve the program's essential economic and community benefits and not harm the businesses and job seekers the program is intended to benefit.

Craig Johnson is president of the California Association of Enterprise Zones.

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