Turning to a strategy long used by Baltimore City to stir economic development, officials in Baltimore County are proposing the creation of their jurisdiction's first enterprise zone.
The proposed zone includes 2,370 acres sprawling haphazardly from the Baltimore Beltway at Pulaski Highway south along North Point Boulevard to the Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant at Sparrows Point.
Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon asked County Council members yesterday for a resolution to apply for the state program, which would give tax credits to industries expanding within the zone or "enhancing the value" of properties there.
Already a number of companies in the area are contemplating expansion, Mr. Hannon said.
"This could immediately benefit and spur final decisions for several companies," he told council members at a luncheon work session.
The city has taken advantage of the program since it was created in 1982 and now has eight enterprise zones. Ten counties also have enterprise zones.
Eligible businesses can receive property tax credits of 80 percent of the new investment during the first five years. They also can receive one-time credits ranging from $500 to $3,000 for each new worker hired.
Only industries -- not retail or commercial enterprises -- are eligible, Mr. Hannon said.
Besides encouraging the expansion of companies, the hope is that the enterprise zone will promote development of vacant parcels, Mr. Hannon said.
To be eligible for the enterprise zone program, areas must have high unemployment, high poverty, a low median income and a significant population loss between 1980 and 1990.
Mr. Hannon characterized the North Point Boulevard area as the place of the "greatest need."
Baltimore County has been concentrating on redeveloping its inner suburban communities for the past year, starting on the east side.
The plan is not without risk. The county would have to forgo some of the added tax revenues business expansion would bring to help pay for the tax credits.
In participating in the enterprise zone program, the county would gamble that a business in the area would not have expanded there anyway or moved operations out of the county without receiving the aid.
Several council members questioned whether tax credits would be enough to persuade businesses to expand, but Mr. Hannon responded that enterprise zones "sometimes are triggering devices" for companies already contemplating growth.
Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat who represents the area, was skeptical about whether the project would work, but added, "I think it's worth a try; we've got to do something."
Mr. Hannon asked the county to draft a resolution requesting the enterprise zone before the state's Oct. 15 application deadline.
The proposal is the latest in a number of plans the county is developing to revitalize the eastern area.
Last week, county and community officials unveiled the Essex-Middle River Community Conservation Plan that included 64 suggestions for improving the area.
The suggestions included more community involvement in making budget decisions, the construction of a school on Martin Boulevard, improved recreational facilities, programs to encourage home ownership, expanded transit service, leadership training programs and better promotion of the community.