For Oregon counties, there is a collective sigh of relief as a bill that threatens economic development opportunities died in committee. The bill, House Bill 2408 A, expands the definition of ‘public works’ in relation to prevailing wage. This bill would include projects that are located in an enterprise zone in which a business has or will receive a property tax exemption if the total project costs are at least $20 million.

Enterprise zones serve as major economic development tools, and at the local level have proven an effective way to attract new business investments and create jobs by offering a means of lowering the initial cost of investment. Imposing prevailing wage requirements to enterprise zones would significantly boost the cost of projects. Additionally, local enterprise zone sponsors (counties, cities, ports, or tribes) currently have the option to impose hiring and wage requirements on larger investments that seek the fourth and fifth years of abatement. HB 2408 A sought to seize local control, a principle Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) firmly stands on, and threatens economic development opportunities.

In the May 23 meeting of the Senate Committee on Workforce, Committee Chair, Senator Kathleen Taylor (D-Milwaukie) commented on general challenges in some enterprise zones and successes in others and advocated that future legislation consider overall impact to enterprise zones.

Taylor called out the desire to advance the bill, but noted, “there was a conversation about the possibility of sending this bill down to rules. The president’s office has requested that we not do this at this point.” In her remarks, Taylor noted that an interim workgroup would be created to continue the discussion with the intent to find a solution for the next legislative session.

Senator Tim Knopp (R-Bend) remarked on the upcoming workgroup process, “I think there is an issue. I don’t think it’s wide-spread though.” Knopp followed up, “I think we can have enterprise zones. I think it can be done well. I don’t think there is any reason we can’t find that balance.”

AOC Interim Executive Director, Mike Eliason will engage in the workgroup process to continue  to protect one of the few economic development opportunities available to local government.

Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate