The Harlan County Economic Development Authority heard an update on Promise Zone related activities during a meeting on Monday.
Promise Zone Coordinator Sandi Curd addressed the board concerning the program’s progress in 2015.
Curd mentioned there are eight southeast Kentucky counties included in the Promise Zone.
“The Promise Zone gives us three things,” Curd said. “The one thing it didn’t give us was any money…the first thing is it gives us priority points on certain federal grants.”
She said Promise Zone areas have also received free access to technical support as well as a promise of tax credits.
“That’s the thing we’re still waiting on,” Curd said. “With tax credits, they would have used the formula they used during the Bill Clinton administration. That is, if your for profit tax-paying business had a footprint in the empowerment zone, then for every employee you employed that lived in the empowerment zone you could deduct up to $3,000 a head.”
Curd said Clinton’s program had impacted poverty indicators in a positive way.
“We know that it (tax credits) can work and it’s a very powerful tool,” Curd said. “Sadly, it is a tool that has to be implemented by the legislative branch of our federal government. You don’t have to be a genius to know there’s a lot of animosity between the executive branch and the legislative branch. We have been told the White House is still optimistic that it will happen. We’ve been told by our legislative representatives that it’s going to have to be part of an overall package of tax reform. So, we’re sad that we’re caught up in that.”
Curd mentioned some of the actions that were taken in the past year to utilize Promise Zones, saying her department has written 173 letters of support for grants and identified $216 million that are expected to come into the Promise Zone in the five to seven years.
“Even though that’s a fantastic figure and I’m very proud of it, when you do the math and you divide it by eight counties you’re only talking maybe a handful of jobs,” Curd explained. “We’ve got a whole lot more work to be able to replace that over a billion dollars of employment…that have gone out with the changes in the energy industry. But, at least it’s in the right direction.”
Curd also mentioned several other Promise Zone accomplishments, including a $30 million investment from Keeneland Racing Association’s announce Thunder Gab horse race track located off the Corbin Bypass in Knox County, $10 million of the $230 million budget for providing high speed, fiber optic broadband backbone across the state.
Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley mentioned Berea College has been successful in applying for grants in the Promise Zone.
“Have you seen other higher education partners that exist in the zone go after funding? Mosley asked.
Curd said there have not been.
“I’ll tell you what I believe the difference is,” Curd said. “Berea College made a decision 20 years ago to have its own aggressive grant writing department, and they staffed it with people who knew how…and I don’t see that in the other colleges.”
In other Authority activity:
• Mosley mentioned the county is studying Harlan County websites to check for cross-branding that may be possible;
• A motion was passed authorizing the formation of a technology subcommittee;
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde