Friday, July 10, 2009

Suffolk plans incentives to lure tech companies

By Dave Forster
The Virginian-Pilot© July 9, 2009


The city hopes to boost its profile as a high-tech hub by offering incentives for companies in the computer and science fields.

Northeastern Suffolk is already a hotbed for modeling and simulation research, with U.S. Joint Forces Command and the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center.

To augment that, a plan is under way to create zones where new or expanding technology companies can get rebates on business license fees and personal property taxes. The Economic Development Authority reviewed a proposal Wednesday and plans to consider it next month.

The two proposed zones would cover large swaths of northern Suffolk and the greater downtown area to expand the reach of the city's existing tech corridor, said acting Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes.

"We want to show them we're forward-thinking," Hughes said.

The zones expire after 10 years. About 20 localities in Virginia have one or more, including Franklin and Newport News. Hampton had two that expired last year but has a third that will last until 2012, said Amber Callahan, the city's marketing and research manager in economic development.

Buena Vista, a city of about 6,500 people southwest of Charlottesville, has two zones.

"It's not something that we've seen businesses locate here as a result of, but it's certainly a nice tool to have to help seal the deal," said Tim Reamer, the city's economic development director.

Cities can tailor their incentives. The initial proposal in Suffolk would require businesses to have at least five employees in the city and require it to fill at least 2,500 square feet of new or vacant space or expand by that much.

The list of businesses that would qualify include modeling and simulation, computer systems design, scientific research, software and Internet publishing, data processing and telecommunications.

"We wanted to be clear that it's not just, 'Hey, I use a computer, so I count as technology,' " Hughes said.

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn asked her economic development staff to run some numbers on the potential impact of the incentives on revenues.

Historically, companies that would qualify for the incentives have opened in the city at a rate of about two per year, Hughes said.

Dave Forster, (757) 222-5563,

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