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Economically Speaking

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by Joseph Driskill

The clock strikes six, the gavel sounds and reams of paper fly through the air. It can mean only one thing: another session of the Missouri General Assembly has drawn to a close.

This year's session was relatively quiet compared to most, but it was extremely productive. In just the matter of a few months, lawmakers were able to introduce, debate, and pass into law numerous bills that have an impact on all of us from laws to stem the tide of methamphetamine production in Missouri, to legislation aimed at providing medical care for our children.

And of course, several measures were introduced that aimed at maintaining and bolstering Missouri's vibrant economy.

Perhaps the success of this year's session can be attributed to fewer "hot button" measures being introduced. These are the bills that usually grab the most media attention but ultimately, due to their controversial nature, usually do not gain passage.

But when it comes to issues important to the Missouri economy, we all were winners this year. With almost a day to spare, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 827 a bill aimed at maximizing job creation and investment without creating new programs and new bureaucracy in our department.

One of the most important components in SB 827 focuses on what is known as the Brownfield Redevelopment Program. The term "brownfield" has come to mean any environmentally contaminated property on which business activity either cannot occur or is hindered by the environmental problems.

The premise for the program is simple: throughout Missouri most prominently in our largest cities dozens of prime industrial and commercial sites sit vacant. The reason? In the past, perhaps decades ago, some industries caused the environmental contamination of the property on which they conducted business and the companies that caused the contamination either can't or won't be responsible for the cleanup.

In many cases, no buyers can be had for the properties, and the land has been defaulted to cities and counties to pay for back taxes owed. Simply, other potential owners are usually fearful of assuming the risk and the financial liability that might result from owning contaminated land. Typically, such contaminated land contains cleaning solvents, motor oils, heavy metals or, in the case of many buildings, asbestos insulation.

Under the state's current Brownfield Program, companies that wish to purchase the land, clean it up and put it back in production can receive tax credits to cover a part of their expenses. Not only does this help clean up potential environmental hazards, but it will help rid our cities of unsightly buildings, redevelop our inner cities, and create jobs where they are needed the most.

SB 827 makes numerous changes to the current Brownfield Program by making it easier to use.

Similarly, the bill also expands the Neighborhood Assistance Program by authorizing an additional $6 million in NAP tax credits for not-for-profit organizations that are seeking donations.

Through NAP, contributors to approved nonprofit projects are entitled

to tax credits of up to 50 percent thus, in essence, allowing them to redirect their tax dollars to local projects. This program has proven to be one of our greatest assets in building stronger communities throughout Missouri.

Passing just two hours before adjournment, House Bill 1656 is aimed at giving us the tools we need to create economic opportunities where they are needed the most.

Essentially, HB 1656 targets the neediest communities of the state, both urban and rural. Communities with an average household income significantly below the regional average will qualify.

This program allows partial tax credits for businesses that are willing to locate a business in one of these economically distressed communities. By providing an inducement for businesses to locate in these areas, we can see significant economic activity in those communities that need it the most.

And finally, HB 1656 creates the Missouri Individual Training Account Act a program that will play an integral role in the training, retraining, and upgrading of skills for Missouri's work force. This program will play a big part in the ongoing effort to maintain and enhance the skills and productivity of the Missouri work force.

As the saying goes, "it all looks good on paper." For now, that's all it is the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people. It's up to us to put these words into programs that ultimately, will create a better Missouri for all of us.

(Joseph Driskill is director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development.)

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