Hoping to diversify a largely agricultural economy, Lake County creates enterprise zones.

Still a largely rural county, Lake County commissioners are hoping enterprise zones help bring in more businesses -- and jobs. (Photo by Steve Schwartz).

MASCOTTE – An enterprise zone sounds like an area where businesses cluster together, sharing offices in a complex that creates jobs for local residents, tax dollars for municipal governments, and spin-off business for older firms in the area.
At least, that’s what Lake County is hoping will happen this year, as the county officially launches three enterprise zones, designed to provide an economic boost to parts of the county that have taken a beating from the collapse of the housing market and the national recession.
In November 2011, Lake County commissioners approved an ordinance to create an Enterprise Zone Development Agency, which will be an 11-member group that assists in the development, implementation and annual review and update of three enterprise zones.
The idea is to designate certain neighborhoods as Enterprise Zones, and provide incentives for new businesses that relocate there or existing ones that expand and create more jobs.
“It has to meet certain criteria as far as being economically depressed,” said Kelly LaFollette, information outreach director for Lake County government.
This month, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity completed its review of Lake County’s proposed Enterprise Zone, and approved the plan.
Leslie Campione, chairwoman of the Lake County Board of Commissioners, said businesses and residents located within the designated neighborhoods in the communities of Eustis, Leesburg and Mascotte will now become eligible for financial incentives offered by those three cities, the state government, and Lake County government.
“We are very pleased that the county’s Enterprise Zone was approved by the state,” said Campione. “Establishing this program in Lake County goes hand-in-hand with the goals outlined in the county’s Economic Action Plan, which targets implementing initiatives that spur economic development and revitalization efforts for local businesses.”
Applications will be available from Lake County’s Growth Management Department. Call 352-343-9647 for more information on the zone incentives, or to apply to be on the Enterprise Zone Development Agency.
The proposed enterprise zones cover three areas of this geographically large county – the central part of the county (Leesburg), the northern end (Eustis) and South Lake County near Clermont and Four Corners (Mascotte).
“Portions of Leesburg, Eustis and Mascotte — not the entire cities — met the Census data requirement for poverty and unemployment,” LaFollette said. “The total enterprise zone could not exceed 10 square miles.”
Within those three neighborhoods, the county will provide incentives for new businesses that come in or existing companies that expand, she said.
“Enterprise zones are all over the state, and we were applying to get a enterprise zone designation here in the county,” she said. “The state has a list of criteria that has to be met, and we put together a strategic plan and sent it up for review, and they reviewed the plan and approved it. Each of those cities already has some sort of incentives in their tool belt, and this provides an extra layer of incentives to the communities.”
Traditionally, Lake County had an economy based on agriculture and farming. In Tavares, the government has been a large employer, and in South Lake County, the region experienced a residential home construction boom in the past decade, followed by a series of new commercial shopping plazas that followed the new residents, adding some economic diversity to a county that had been a suburban bedroom community for Orlando for years.
Lake County has also been making a stronger push in recent years for increased tourism, promoting its lakes, outdoor activities, and resorts like the Mission Hill Inn at Howey in the Hills.
But the county is also hoping to find an even more diversified economic base in the near future, Lafollette said, and the next step is to recruit the members of the new development agency.
“The first thing that has to be done is an enterprise zone agency has to be created,” she said. “We’re hoping that by the beginning of February, we’ll find those 11 members, and they will help oversee the enterprise zones. By December 1 of each year, a report has to be sent to the state for review, which gives a review of where we’re at and makes sure we’re meeting our goals.”

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