Gauging city's empowerment zone On the right track: Targeting small businesses shows promise of more jobs.

July 30, 1996

AN APPARENT CASE of forgery in the city's empowerment zone is disturbing, especially since some are suggesting the act was excusable because the right person received money he was owed. They are wrong. If there is evidence that Leonard Jackson Jr. forged a signature to be paid $6,500 in salary he was owed as executive director of the Self Motivated Community People's Village Center in West Baltimore, he should be fired.

The public cannot have confidence that anyone who has abused its trust won't do so again. No person, no matter how good a job he is doing, should be allowed to break the law. The empowerment zone board should take steps immediately to tighten lax financial procedures that may have allowed this incident to occur.

Unfortunately, the episode has left the impression that the empowerment zone program is in disarray. That's not true. In fact, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Andrew Cuomo says Baltimore has been setting the pace for the other five cities with empowerment zones.

As is typical for economic development, however, that pace can be slow. Much of what has and is expected to take place in the empowerment zone will involve small businesses. Their collective impact may be great, but the public may not notice each announcement of a new company that employs only a few dozen people.

As of this month, 13 new businesses with 503 jobs had located in the empowerment zone. Those businesses range from Truly Scratch Bakery, with two employees, to Sandtown-Winchester Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which employs 140. Another 465 jobs may be created through the expansion of seven businesses already in the zone and 515 jobs have been created through the relocation of 11 other existing businesses to the zone.

Those more than 1,400 jobs have come with the city spending only about $1.3 million of its $100 million federal grant. It's the $225 million in tax breaks that is luring businesses to the zone. But zone officials have pledged to spend $1 million to set up a high-risk business loan fund and $945,000 to beef up police protection. In addition, a $2 million fund is being created to help zone residents purchase homes. It's a slow process without high drama, but the empowerment zone seems to be on the right track.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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