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Bill would promote emerging technologies

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

CHARLESTON -- A bill that creates tax incentives for businesses that focus on emerging technologies is making its way through the state Senate.

By a unanimous voice vote, the Senate's Economic Development Committee advanced Senate Bill 520 on Wednesday.

"This is a well-thought-out experiment in economic development," Vision Shared President and CEO Rebecca Randolph said before the committee meeting. "It creates petri dishes that will allow us to see what kind of impact these new technologies could have on a broader scale."

Under the legislation, the governor is authorized to establish up to 10 designated geographic areas as "economic development launchpads" from applications that are submitted by cities and county commissions. Once established, the designation remains in effect until 2030.

Business activities targeted for those designated areas include biotechnology, nanotechnology, clean coal and natural gas technology and advanced manufacturing and information technologies, among many other "innovative technologies."

Those businesses will receive state and local tax breaks if they meet certain employment or investment thresholds or enter into a long-term lease for property within the designated launchpad area. Portions of those tax breaks will have to be refunded if the business relocates outside the designated area or ceases operations within the first five years.

Qualified companies also can retain 75 percent of its withholding taxes for employees hired into new jobs if it can create five new jobs within the first two years. Those jobs, however, must pay at least $34,100 a year and offer health insurance benefits. The tax benefit is good for five years and can be enhanced if the qualified companies provide their employees with student loan payment assistance.

Vision Shared, a nonprofit organization that specializes in economic and community development, crafted the legislation three years ago. It passed the Senate in 2010 and 2011, but failed to gain approval in the House. Last year, the House passed the legislation but it died in the Senate.

Randolph believes the bill stands a stronger chance of making it to the governor's desk this year because of tweaks that require companies to report their progress to the West Virginia Development Office and allow the state to recoup tax breaks if a company relocates or falls short of the requirements in the bill. More importantly, she said, it is being discussed in the shadows of sweeping education reform.

"There's a renewed realization that we have to keep our young, well-educated individuals in this state," she said. "If you look at the underlying philosophy of this bill, it's about keeping our best and brightest here and giving them opportunities to create emerging technologies that will diversify West Virginia's economy."

Mike Basile, a board member for Vision Shared, told committee members that the the organization typically doesn't support tax credits, but the incentives in the bill are reserved for companies that derive income from technologies that don't exist in the state now.

"By design, this is about growing the pie and empowering West Virginia to vie for next-generation technologies," he said. "It's really forward-looking legislation."

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.