The Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) Reform Bill has been signed into law by Acting Governor Sheila Oliver.
The legislation restores and revises the UEZ Program and appropriates $42.5 million in Zone Assistance Funds (ZAF) for the 2022 fiscal year.
“The UEZ Program helps support the local economy, particularly in our urban centers,” said Oliver, who also serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs and will now be Chair of the UEZ Program Authority.
Restoring full funding
The UEZ Program Authority, an affiliate of the Department of Community Affairs, was created in 1983 to revitalize designated urban communities and stimulate their growth by encouraging businesses to develop and create jobs through public and private investment.
In a previous iteration of the program, UEZ provided a dedicated funding source for local economic development in the form of a reduced state sales tax. Those funds promoted economic development in UEZ communities.
Dedicated funding was ended in 2011 under former Gov. Chris Christie, but is being restored under the new law. Restoring funding is especially important as communities recover from the pandemic.
“The UEZ revised legislation will make it possible for small, medium, and large businesses within the zones to provide jobs to the community; and that is what the UEZ Program is all about,” said UEZ Executive Director Tracy Fredericks.
At the local level
Currently, there are 32 zones in 37 municipalities, home to approximately 7,267 UEZ-certified businesses. Hudson County UEZs are in Bayonne, Jersey City, Union City, North Bergen, West New York, Guttenberg, and Kearny.
The new legislation restores expired UEZ’s in five cities while extending the program an additional five years. Currently designated UEZs can retain UEZ designation for 10 years. All UEZs are currently set to expire between 2023 and 2025.
The program came to North Bergen, West New York and Guttenberg in 1994 thanks to legislation sponsored at the time by State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco. Sacco was also the primary sponsor of the new UEZ legislation.
Benefiting North Bergen
The funding helped North Bergen revitalize the Tonnelle Avenue shopping corridor, generating millions of dollars in tax revenue and creating hundreds of jobs, according to Sacco.
“The Urban Enterprise Zone program is one of our state’s most successful economic development initiatives, and it helped communities like North Bergen make tremendous progress when it was in effect before Governor Christie removed its funding and essentially ended its ability to help urban municipalities,” Sacco said. “For more than a decade, the UEZ Program Authority has gone without a funding source, making it difficult for many inner city businesses to financially expand and grow.”
While it was in effect, the UEZ program helped North Bergen attract major retailers like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Lowes. It funded economic development initiatives, from marketing small businesses to providing enhanced police presence in retail shopping areas.
A 2018 study measured the net economic impact of the UEZ Program and determined that it is a valuable tool in New Jersey’s economic toolbox and should remain available to designated municipalities.
Members Gary Schaer, Angela McKnight, William Spearman, and Vince Mazzeo sponsored the legislation in the state assembly. They said in a statement, “Leveraging every dollar spent in designated Urban Enterprise Zones of the State is key to this recovery and to preparing for long-term revitalization of our communities, especially those hardest hit during the public health crisis.”
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.