Columbia County officials and business owners met last week to discuss enhancing the economic vitality of the central Martinez region.
The Development Authority of Columbia County recently started the process to create an urban redevelopment plan for the central Martinez section that includes portions of Bobby Jones Expressway, Washington Road to the Richmond County line, and areas behind Walmart and West Town Shopping Center.
"Central Martinez is still fairly vibrant, but there are perhaps some things we can do to ensure, maybe even improve, on that economic vitality," said county Development Authority Executive Director Troy Post, who led the discussion Nov. 17.
Nine members of the advisory committee gathered for the first of three meetings scheduled through December.
Other reasons for the study include improving business and living conditions in the area and creating an "opportunity zone," a special designation that offers a state tax credit of $3,500 for each job created for businesses investing or reinvesting in the area. The business would have to develop two new jobs for the tax credits to take effect.
Post said statistics show that the area in question lags behind other areas of the county.
According to 2000 census data, more than 15 percent of those residing in the study area lived below the poverty line, compared with less than 7 percent of other households in the county. Other statistics, including household income, housing conditions and crime, followed the same pattern, he said.
"There are different factors that say to us that if we don't address these things by creating some tools then the problem could continue and get to the point when it may be hard to turn it around," Post said.
Post refrained from referring to the area in a way that would create a negative perception. "We don't want to do anything that would stymie further business investments," he said.
The urban redevelopment plan follows completion of the county's growth management plan, which is undergoing review by the CSRA Regional Commission.
During the meeting, committee members discussed the lack of ample water and sewers in portions of the Martinez area
"That's the very first question that's asked," Planning Commission Chairwoman Jean Garniewicz said of the lack of sewers.
Future advisory committee meetings and two public hearings will be held in December, which caused concern among some members of the committee. Post said he wants to complete the plan by January to be able to offer state tax credits for a firm interested in locating in that area.
"I say we buckle up and try," Commissioner Charles Allen said. "We certainly need the opportunity for jobs."
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