State lists enterprise zone for Easton
EASTON — Town and county officials are trying to revitalize one of the poorer areas of Easton using a state-sponsored tax credit incentive meant to draw businesses and jobs.
Through the program, businesses that come to the new enterprise zone in Easton, create jobs and make capital investments can benefit from real property and state income tax credits.
“The new enterprise zone will foster government and citizen collaboration for two
major redevelopment priority areas for the Town of Easton — Port Street and the hospital site — setting the stage for capital investments and jobs for our community,” Easton Mayor Bob Willey said. “The enterprise zone will be a key incentive for businesses to grow and attract jobs to a much-needed part of town.”
The enterprise zone covers 90 acres and several large, vacant buildings from Port Street to Washington Street and down Washington Street to the area of the hospital, which is slated for redevelopment once the hospital moves just north of Easton. It’s the first enterprise zone for Talbot County since the program started in 1982. It only covers business properties and does not include residential properties.
Easton Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Tracy Ward said there are two scenarios in which the tax credit would kick in.
One is a real property tax credit. When a property owner makes an investment in their lot, the enterprise zone enables the business to apply for an 80 percent credit for the first five years on that investment. The state then reimburses the county or town at 50 percent.
The other tax credit kicks in when a business makes new hires.
Despite getting a tax break, the investments still are adding a new tax base, making it a “good deal for the town and county, and it’s also a good deal for the state,” Ward said.
“It’s really a program that brings all the parties to the table. It requires business investment, it protects citizens because the tax base is growing,” Ward said. “The town and county and the state are basically recognizing that businesses need incentives to do expansions or to come into certain communities, and this particular community ... has a very high poverty rate.”
Ward said a lot of people who live in the neighborhood of the enterprise zone are working full time, but they have low wages, which is why “that particular census tract was deserving to be an enterprise zone,” she said.
The enterprise zone was built around Census Tract 9603 on Port and Washington streets.
According to the Census Bureau, Talbot County’s median household income in $58,228, and Easton’s median household income is $50,496. But in the enterprise zone, the median household income is $35,578, and more than 21 percent of the residents make between $15,000 and $24,900.
According to the Census Bureau, 18 percent of people living in Census Tract 9603 are below the poverty level, and almost 27 percent of families with children younger than 18 are below the poverty level.
“There’s something about that concentration of poverty that’s particularly challenging, I think, for anyone to address, and so the way that we’re going to try to address it is by growing the commercial economy there so that we can create jobs, good paying jobs,” Ward said.
While nothing is lined up at the moment, Ward said there might be a couple projects that are starting to emerge for that area that would bring “good middle-income jobs.”
The town plans to use the enterprise zone to strengthen current redevelopment in town. While the hospital redevelopment is years out, town officials are in the midst of figuring out what to do with Port Street and how to move forward redeveloping it, while maintaining sensitivity to those who live there so they are not forced to leave their homes.
The county and town collaborated on the application process, and both councils submitted resolutions supporting the enterprise zone.
“The Talbot County Council is pleased to join with the Town of Easton in receiving this designation, knowing that it will provide tax credits that will grow jobs, retain and attract businesses,” County Council President Jennifer Williams said.
The Maryland Department of Commerce approves the state’s enterprise zones, while local governments are responsible for their administration. Ward said the program is in effect locally and they can start processing applications immediately.
Businesses located in the state’s 31 enterprise zones have received roughly $45 million in property tax credits in fiscal year 2018, based on more than $3 billion in capital investments made in fiscal year 2017. During the past five years, businesses in Maryland’s enterprise zones have made a total of $13.5 billion in capital investments.
Other designations, redesignations and expansions included parts of Anne Arundel, Cecil, Garrett and Montgomer y counties.
“I am pleased to designate several new enterprise zones around the state and renew the state’s commitment to other zones,” Maryland Commerce Secretary Mike Gill said. “This program generates opportunities in every corner of Maryland by fostering a climate of business growth, job creation and economic prosperity.”