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Coachella Valley EZ Manager Has High Hopes

In an interview with The Desert Sun, Mark Weber, the manager of the Coachella Valley Enterprise Zone, details his support for the Enterprise Zone program, and what it has meant to the area.

Interview from The Desert Sun:

Mark Weber became manager of the Coachella Valley Enterprise Zone Authority in July. Previously, Weber served for six years on the authority’s Advisory Committee. He has held various community and economic development in California and South Carolina.

After earning his BA from UCLA, he worked for TRW Space/Defense as a business analyst and then Hughes Aircraft/Raytheon Systems. He also has worked with city of Orangeburg, S.C., Department of Public Utilities, working with the South Carolina Department of Commerce, the Orangeburg County Development Commission and the Economic Development Partnership. While there he earned his MBA from Winthrop University. He later worked with the Imperial Irrigation District, serving with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and as chairman of the Coachella Chamber of Commerce. He s now on a La Quinta planning commissioner.

QUESTION: How do enterprise zones work?

ANSWER: The enterprise zone program is one of the only remaining economic development programs left in the state. The program was created more than 20 years ago to encourage businesses to grow and jobs to be created in areas targeted for economic development.

There are 42 zones authorized. The program offers five main incentives to businesses operating in and creating jobs within targeted areas:
Employer hiring credit: This is the most often used tax incentive which can reduce or even eliminate net tax on income. It provides tax credits to businesses that hire qualified individuals that meet certain eligibility criteria. These credits can total up to $37,440 per employee for five years.

Income tax credit for sales tax paid: Provides an income tax credit for sales and use taxes paid for new machinery and parts purchased for use within the zone.

Accelerated write off of certain business expenses: The costs of certain property acquired for use in an enterprise zone business can be deducted as a business expense, up to a designated percentage.

Net operating loss carryover: Businesses located in an enterprise can carry over 100% of losses incurred for up to 15 years.

Net Interest Deduction for Lenders: A financial lender may claim a deduction of net interest received from loans to businesses in the zone.

Q: You became manager of the Coachella Valley Enterprise Zone Authority in July. Were you satisfied by the groundwork established by your predecessors?

A: While serving on the authority’s Advisory Committee for six years prior to accepting the position of manager this past July when the prior manager retired, I became familiar with the operations and opportunities the zone affords our region.

We’ve had some fine managers over the years that have worked hard for the zone. The dedicated volunteers and stakeholders that initially had the vision almost 20 years ago laid the groundwork and deserve much of the credit. Many of these individuals remain active and involved in the development and future of our entire valley.

I will work, as I have for the past six years, with these and other forward thinking individuals to encourage job growth, economic development and economic diversity throughout the Coachella Valley. The benefits of the enterprise zone program reach far beyond its limited geographic area, providing benefits to the entire region.

Q: You served as a city councilman in Cordova, S.C., and as a trustee for a regional hospital. What else in your background qualified you for this job?

A: My two terms on City Council in South Carolina simply introduced me to the political world, while my four years on the board of trustees for the 286 bed, Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties strengthened my interpersonal skills and enhanced my understanding of the administrative challenges and opportunities faced by large, complex systems.

However, I believe my most directly relevant experience is the regional economic development activities I was involved in while I worked at a large public utility company in South Carolina. My role enabled me to engage with the county Economic Development Agency and Development Commission, area stakeholders, landowners, the State Commerce Department and the regional private partnership.

This was during a time when the region was in the midst of successfully transitioning from a predominantly agricultural- and textile-based economy to a more diversified, broad economy including assembly facilities, medical services, manufacturing, and light and heavy industrial companies. We brought in chemical manufacturers, food processors, cable and medical tubing extruders, and automotive facilities. Importantly, we also enhanced the link between secondary education and business. I built upon these experiences when I was recruited back to California in 2004 by the Imperial Irrigation District to develop a large customer program for the utility.

Q: What has the Coachella Valley Enterprise Zone Authority meant to the east valley?

A: The authority has helped retain, attract and locate businesses into the region that may have not otherwise considered the Coachella Valley. I firmly believe that our region cannot sustain itself by relying on only two main industries — hospitality and agribusiness. The Enterprise Zone, our city Economic Development departments, the regional economic partnership and community stakeholders continue to work to bring diversity to our valley economy. I see tremendous potential in sectors such as multi-media, education, medical technology, research and development, manufacturing, and assembly enhancements. The authority is an important tool to help to diversify the economy of the Coachella Valley, bringing new opportunities and options to the region.

Q: A study earlier this year suggested that areas without enterprise zones had as much economic activity as areas that have enterprise zones. Is that the case?

A: In my experience, I can tell you that the vouchers that have come across the authority manager’s desk for years are for real jobs, created in the zone by businesses investing in the community and providing opportunity for working class folks. They are not the senior executives and upper level managers, but the workers and supervisors, field workers and office personnel, retail and commercial business. These are employees with spouses and families to support. I prefer to focus on the facts and the real numbers that I see daily — people earning as little as $8 per hour. The money they earn is spent locally, stimulating our local economy and generating local and state sales tax revenue.

Companies in our region, and across this state, have credited the program as one of the central reasons they remain in California. We may see more businesses and jobs leave for other states if the program is gutted.

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