Not the right time for another enterprise zone

In 2010 the legislature approved the Bradley Airport Development Zone within a four-town area around Bradley international airport. Thus, the enterprise zone concept as an economic development strategy anchored by an international airport is still a new, untested but potentially good idea in Connecticut.

Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s veto of the regional Oxford airport enterprise zone bill is an opportunity for the new Connecticut Airport Authority to develop, refine and implement a new and dynamic strategy around the Bradley international airport model if it is to be utilized elsewhere, and the legislature should reaffirm that strategy when it convenes this fall.

When the Enterprise Zone concept was adopted in the United States in the early 1980s it was hailed as an effective tool for the targeted revitalization of distressed urban areas. Connecticut was the first state to approve such designations within six of its larger urban centers – Bridgeport, Hartford, New Britain, New Haven, New London and Norwalk.

The state enabled municipalities to offer a generous mix of tax and job creation incentives to induce businesses to locate, expand, invest and create jobs, especially for low and moderate income residents of these communities. Some of the early successes of the program resulted in expansions of the designated areas within the original six communities and the extension of the program to four other cities in Connecticut by 1986.

In spite of questionable net economic and administrative benefits of such designations, political and local economic development parochialism have created 38 distinct areas within 23 competing municipalities that now provide the same incentives under a variety of beguiling names: bioscience enterprise corridor zone, defense plant zone, contiguous municipality zone, entertainment district, railroad depot zone, manufacturing plant zone and qualified manufacturing plant zone, as well as the five-town Naugatuck Valley enterprise corridor zone which is in the same geographic region as the town of Oxford.

Even though it was not everything that the Governor would have liked to see, the Connecticut Airport Authority bill also won overwhelming bipartisan legislative support. Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, ranking GOP senator on the Commerce Committee, called the legislation “one of the more exciting bills to come along” in recent years.

The new nine-member Connecticut Airport Authority, composed of public- and private-sector representatives now has an unprecedented and unique opportunity to stimulate economic development in Connecticut by exploiting the assets of Bradley international airport with the area’s development zone designation and the state’s five smaller regional airports, including Oxford. That goal can definitely be achieved without yet another enterprise zone.

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