State Representative Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) has filed HB 611, and act relating to Rural Areas of Opportunity. The bill renames the former Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC) to reflect a more current representation of the collaborative efforts to focus on the economic opportunities and potential in our rural counties.

In addition, the bill includes revisions for rural infrastructure awards and qualifications to be more competitive with other states and allows for the development of designated targeted industries for rural counties beginning in 2014 that would be specific to the region.

As Florida’s economy continues to improve and the state invests millions of dollars into economic development activity, rural Florida needs to be a part of the discussion and have the ability to capitalize on business growth and recruitment.

A key component in HB 611 is that any county in a RACEC region will automatically be designated an Enterprise Zone. Florida’s Enterprise Zone program was created to encourage capital investment and job creation in distressed areas through tax credits and refunds. They are specific geographic area targeted for economic revitalization.

Of the $16.3 million in state dollars awarded to businesses located in Enterprise Zones, only $2.3 million of those dollars were awarded in Florida’s 32 rural counties. In 2012, the state conducted a study to assess what economic development activities could be formulated to enhance business development in rural Florida.

Among the many proposals included in the report was a clear recommendation to expand the Enterprise Zone program in rural Florida. “As part of the rural economic development legislation I have filed for the 2014 Session, a number of revisions to the rural Enterprise Zone program are included to boost rural counties’ ability to recruit businesses into these zones,” said Beshears.

“Rather than limiting the scope of these zones, we need to expand and designate the entire rural county as an Enterprise Zone. By eliminating limits on where a business can locate, we will create true incentives to grow businesses in our rural regions,” he said.

“As our rural counties continue to face difficult challenges in their efforts to improve their economies, it is imperative that we remain proactive in our efforts to compete with urban areas and gain parity for our rural counties in opportunities for growth and progression,” Beshears said. “The modifications in this legislation will help level the playing field to ensure rural Florida has a fighting chance to attract jobs.”