April Cover Story…By Tom Dwyer
It seems the economic meltdown is the only topic of conversation these days. With millions of people losing their homes and jobs, there is a feeling of powerlessness in the country. But being smart with the money you do have, can make all the difference. And that’s where the Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) comes in. It turns out that shopping locally in a Hudson County store or business that’s part of the UEZ Program may not just be the best way to save money, it might help create jobs, and improve the financial health of your neighborhood, says Jersey City mayor, Jerramiah Healy. “The financial support provided by UEZ to neighborhood-based economic redevelopment is crucial to the viability of our neighborhoods.”
The Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) is a national program that goes back to the 1960’s, created to turn blighted areas into thriving business zones. The UEZ Programs, designed to help businesses start and grow, offer member businesses a number of financial incentives, ranging from substantial tax breaks to advertising budgets. More than 30 New Jersey municipalities have UEZ programs – usually located in commercial and/or industrial sections of a city – and Hudson County is home to both one of the newest and oldest UEZ Programs in New Jersey.
Designated in 2002, Bayonne is one of the state’s newest Urban Enterprise Zone cities, and it now has more than 200 local businesses registered. Mary Divock, the Executive Director of Bayonne Town Center, is a great fan of the UEZ, and credits it for helping to revitalize Bayonne’s main shopping area. “This program helps us in many ways, from paying for advertisement, to keeping the streets clean in the town center. And they produce a great family festival each year which draws several thousand people that helps drive business to our stores. They also offer a great program for renovating facades of buildings.” Mary says the UEZ Program and Bayonne Town Center work well together because they have the same goal: to make Bayonne a better place to shop. Businesses participating in the UEZ Program can charge 50% less sales tax on certain purchases which makes it especially appealing to shoppers.
One of the largest, oldest and most successful UEZ Programs in the Garden State is the one in Jersey City. Started in 1986, today more than 600 companies take part in the Jersey City UEZ program and more than 35, 000 jobs have been created thanks to tax breaks and hiring incentives. Since it began, $81 million has been reinvested in 107 Jersey City UEZ projects, generating more than $10.5 billion in capital investments.
Gilbert Mendez, the owner of Nationwide Travel, has operated his small business on Central Avenue in Jersey City since 1978. He remembers what the avenue was like before he helped organize it as the city’s first Urban Enterprise Zone. “Central Avenue before the UEZ was a group of merchants who really didn’t work together to make the avenue better. Then a few of us got together and found out about the UEZ program. We contacted the mayor in 1985 and applied for funding through the UEZ. The Central Avenue merchants were the first ones in Jersey City to become a UEZ area. And we were one of the first in the state.” Mendez, proud of his role in turning Central Avenue into a major shopping district in Jersey City, says that even in this tough economy the avenue is holding its own, thanks to its participation in the UEZ Program. “One of the benefits of being in the UEZ is that they allow you to collect a lesser sales tax and the UEZ helps maintain the streets, lights and the all around appearance of the avenue,” Mendez said.
Today, thirty percent of Jersey City is designated as an Urban Enterprise Zone, with four main shopping areas organized as Special Improvement Districts (SIDS): Central Avenue Special Improvement District, Historic Downtown Special Improvement District, Journal Square Restoration Corporation, and McGinley Square Partnership Special Improvement District. In addition to providing advertising and marketing assistance, the SID program gives grants to helps local retail property and business owners spruce up the outside of stores and buildings.
Another way that small businesses in Hudson County are being helped in these trying times is through the Hudson County Economic Development loan program. Be it for new equipment, the purchase of a building or inventory, loans from $25, 000 to $100, 000 dollars are available for companies in business for two or more years.
HCEDC has provided loan assistance to small businesses totaling over 4.8 million dollars. They are actively looking to lend to businesses that meet the criteria. They can be reached at (201) 222-1900. HCEDC is building a better Hudson County one business at a time. So, next time you’re looking for a good deal, stick close to home – you’ll find great buys on some great-looking streets.