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Renewed Coles enterprise zone provides incentives for more business categories
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COLES COUNTY

Renewed Coles enterprise zone provides incentives for more business categories

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MATTOON — A change in a longstanding economic development tool in Coles County will mean retail and other types of businesses will now be able to benefit from its incentives.

The renewal of the county's enterprise zone included the changes that expanded the benefits from beyond only industrial operations. The renewal went into place with the start of the new year.

The county successfully applied to the state to renew the enterprise zone, which had been in place for 29 years. The program offers some sales tax exemptions and temporary property tax abatements for businesses in the zone's territory.

Angela Griffin, president of the Coles Together, the county economic development organization, said the renewal and changes will put the county on “equal footing” with other areas.

“It's a significant accomplishment because if our application had not been approved, this county would be in a severely detrimental position trying to recruit new businesses,” she said.

As before, the enterprise zone covers a total of 15 square miles, mostly the cities of Charleston and Mattoon but also the Illinois Route 16 corridor and some other areas.

A map of the enterprise zone is available on the county's website at https://coles.maps.arcgis.com/home/index.html.

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Changes were made, however, and Griffin said that was mostly removal of what are now residential areas. Areas replacing those were the courthouse square in Charleston, south Lake Land Boulevard in Mattoon and the city square and nearby areas in Oakland.

Griffin said state law always allowed the retail, commercial and services businesses in enterprise zones but those weren't included when the program was first put in place in the county.

She credited the cities and other county governments for “having the foresight” to include those businesses as other communities do.

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“As communities grow and evolve, it made sense to add those,” she said.

To qualify for enterprise zone incentives, businesses have to locate, expand or conduct renovations and be located in the zone's territory.

The businesses receive an exemption on sales tax on building materials for the projects and abatements on property taxes for the new construction. The abatements don't apply to previously existing property and they vary for the different types of businesses.

Those in the new categories receive a full abatement the first year, a 75% abatement the second year and a 50% in the third, the final year for those abatements. Industrial operations receive 100% abatements for 10 years.

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Griffin said the idea is to temporarily abate the property taxes in exchange for a larger tax base after the abatements expire. All the county's taxing bodies have approved the abatements.

Eligible projects have to be designed to add or retain jobs, though there's no set number of jobs to qualify, Griffin said.

She said Coles Together worked with the county's cities to help determine areas where businesses in the new categories might locate.

In Charleston, that covers the “vast majority” of the city's commercially zoned areas, said city Planner Steve Pamperin . The enterprise zone changes could mean prospects for locations such as the courthouse square and along Lincoln Avenue and the rest of Illinois Route 16, he said.

City officials regularly get questions about locations and incentives from businesses that area considering Charleston, Pamperin also said.

“Cities are always looking to grow and increase their tax base,” he said. “Including all our corridors should do that.”

The new incentives could be “just enough” to get a business to decide to locate in Mattoon, city Administrator Kyle Gill said.

“It's going to help growth altogether,” he said. “It's just another tool that's needed to help.”

Gill said the area at the intersection of Illinois Route 16 and Lerna Road could be attractive for development, and others include Charleston Avenue/Route 16, the Interstate 57 access at County Road 1000N and Lake Land Boulevard.

Oakland Mayor Bob Michaels said that city has been able to keep many of its businesses but help's welcome to draw more, mostly to the city's square.

“Everybody wants to see the square come back,” he said.

Enterprise zone incentives could be the “shot in the arm” needed to help make Oakland and the county more competitive, Michaels also said.

For Coles Together, the enterprise zone's new provisions will mean the organization will work on attracting retail and other businesses in addition to the the industrial and manufacturing operations its traditionally recruited, Griffin said.

She said she has no specific prospects or expectations for that yet but Coles Together has been in conversation with some businesses.

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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