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Posted August 29, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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EDA endorses change to technology zone ordinance

Loosening of requirements would help attract businesses downtown

By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority has endorsed changes to requirements for the downtown technology zone in an effort to attract business.

The unanimous vote -- EDA board member Roger Jarmon was absent -- came following a Friday presentation to the panel by EDA technology consortium committee member William P. "Bill" Barnett and the committee chairman, Craig Laird.

The purpose of the technology zone ordinance, which was established more than 10 years ago and adopted by the Town Council and the Warren County Board of Supervisors, is to encourage the development of technology-related businesses.

If approved by the town and the county, the amendments endorsed by the EDA will allow a business to invest $3,000 instead of $10,000 in start-up money and have a minimum of three full-time jobs paying twice the minimum wage, rather than 10 full-time jobs paying twice the minimum wage, to be qualified for the technology zone and to be eligible to receive grants.

"The thresholds that we've had in the downtown area have not worked," Barnett said. "We haven't been successful [in attracting businesses]."

The technology committee felt this was a good time to amend the ordinance, Barnett said.

"The timing seems particularly good because being in a recession, you have a lot of people who have been laid off but still have some assets and might be inclined to start a business," he said.

One of the reasons to reduce the amount of investment, Barnett said, is that with the declining cost of equipment, like computers, "it's increasingly difficult to meet the threshold."

Laird elaborated as to what sorts of businesses the committee would like to attract to the downtown technology zone.

"When we looked at the types of businesses that we wanted as a mix in the downtown area, we're talking over tops of storefronts," Laird said. "We're talking programmers, for example, that are currently commuting down to D.C., where they can actually use a remote session in an office here. The cost of actually setting up such a business is pretty small. There's not $10,000 or more invested in it. They bring their laptops. They bring their high-speed Internet. They bring their desks and chairs and they've got their office. So the buy-in getting started is so much less than it is in an industrial park. So, the ordinance really didn't seem to be working in the downtown area to attract this mix of businesses."

EDA board member Stephen Sill agreed with fellow board member Greg Drescher that there appeared to be no "downside" to endorsing the amendments.

Barnett added that incubator businesses are the most desirable for the downtown technology zone, with the natural progression as they grow for them to possibly move to technology zones in the Happy Creek Technology Park or the Avtex SuperFund site, now known as the Royal Phoenix.

"I think you make a compelling argument, therefore I would move that we adopt these amendments as presented," EDA board member James M. Eastham said.

The group's executive director, Jennifer McDonald, praised the efforts of the technology consortium committee.

"This committee is our most active and our most successful committee that we have here," she said.

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