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Norcross moves to create job Opportunity Zones, incentives

NORCROSS - City officials in Norcross are looking into creating Opportunity Zones in the city, taking part in a state program that pays businesses $3,500 for every new hire they make. According to the city's Economic Development Manager Steven Bush, these Opportunity Zones are identified by census data poverty zones and the areas adjacent to them.

"(Creating these zones) gives us a competitive advantage," Bush said. Norcross is the first city in Gwinnett County to apply for this revitalization incentive.

One of the hurdles cities or counties must clear when applying to create Opportunity Zones is creating an Urban Redevelopment Plan, which implements the ideas and measures set forth in the city's 2030 Comprehensive Plan. The area of re-development identified is the majority of the city of Norcross.

Both poverty and under-development must be issues in Opportunity Zones, and Norcross has both. On the heels of the job growth explosion Norcross and most of Gwinnett County enjoyed in the 1980s, many companies have relocated to areas outside the city on less expensive land.

The American Express Call Center, formerly located in Norcross and currently located in Lawrenceville, took with it 600 jobs when the center moved. Lucent Technologies also moved out of Norcross. Those jobs have not been replaced, and the relocations have created substantial vacancies in commercial properties.

The loss of jobs and vacant properties have created spikes in crime where there was once plenty of gainful employment. For these reasons, Bush said, Norcross is an ideal location for the Opportunity Zone incentives.

Suniva Chief Financial Officer James Modak addressed mayor Bucky Johnson and city council members Monday, supporting Bush's assertions and the city's resolve to apply for Opportunity Zones and the incentives that go along with them.

"We're working on two waves of new hires, and this initiative will help fund those," said Modak, who is working alongside city officials to pursue the state-funded program. Suniva is a corporate leader in renewable energy technology and recently opened the South's first solar cell factory in Norcross.

A special called city council meeting and public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday upstairs in Norcross City Hall. City officials expect action to be taken at that meeting, following the public hearing. No action was taken at Monday night's regularly scheduled council meeting.