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East Naples is in the zone.

At least a part of it is, now that Collier County commissioners have created an Innovation Zone for strips of commercial and industrial property surrounding the intersection of Interstate 75 and Collier Boulevard.

The zone was approved without discussion Tuesday. It's meant to spur economic development such as corporate headquarters and manufacturing plants. The zone includes vacant and developed land, stretching several hundred acres.  

The commission adopted Innovation Zones as a strategy to promote economic development and diversify the local economy in 2010, but the county has been slow to implement them. Only one other zone exists, in Ave Maria.

2015: Collier considering tax incentive zone to lure businesses to Ave Maria

The county hopes to create higher-paying jobs outside its three primary industries: agriculture, hospitality and construction/real estate. Many of the jobs in those industries tend to be lower-paying.

The overall concept of the Innovation Zone program is similar to Community Redevelopment Areas, which are used to turn around blighted communities. Revenue from increased property values in the zone's geographic boundaries would be used to help pay for projects in the zone.

Here's how they work: The County Commission sets the base tax year and geographical area, and then any tax increase collected in the area can be captured and deposited in a trust fund developers can tap. Up to $1 million can be put into the fund for any zone in any year.

"They are a really nice tool. It's not a big dollars thing. But it's a good solid program that developers and business owners can rely on," said Jace Kentner, the county's director of business and economic development. 

More: Collier areas designated low tax zones to spur business development

To qualify for the incentives, developers must get their projects approved before building them. The money can help cover county permit and impact fees and other development and construction-related costs.

"Basically, the trust funds can be utilized in any lawful manner which the board determines fosters economic development," Kentner said.

County commissioners approved the Innovation Zone for Ave Maria in 2015, but money didn't become available until 2017. So far, no developers have tapped the trust fund, and the fund will continue to grow if no one uses it this year, Kentner said.

In the first year the Ave Maria zone captured $31,000, and the second year it generated roughly $83,000, making about $114,000 available. It's expected to bring in another $90,000 next year, Kentner said.

In the East Naples zone, money won't be available until fiscal 2020. The first year an estimated $120,000 will be up for grabs, but Kentner said he'd be happier to see the money grow, rather than to be used up quickly.

"In my mind, bigger is better," he said. "So we want a bigger fund that can be used to really be leveraged to do some aggressive things in the zone."

2010: Collier looks at new 'innovation zones' to raise money for economic growth

In his report recommending board approval of the East Naples zone, Kentner said "for many years development has unduly lagged within the industrial and commercial areas near the Interstate 75 and Collier Boulevard intersection." 

The idea of establishing Innovation Zones came out of efforts years ago by the now defunct Economic Development Council of Collier County, a private-public partnership, to promote economic diversity.

County commissioners approved the ordinance to pave the way for the zones with a unanimous vote as Maine-based Jackson Laboratory was considering building a genetics institute in eastern Collier. The company could have tapped the incentive if it had ended up in a zone, but it decided in 2011 to go elsewhere.

There are hopes of setting up more zones throughout the county, but there isn't a targeted number.

"As they are identified, we will really work hard with the developers and property owners to implement them," Kentner said.   

More: Collier County reinvests in business accelerators after disputes, changes

Michael Dalby, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, said the county's support of the zones is encouraging.

"It's good to see the county recognizing the value of economic development and providing incentives," he said. "Any incentives like this are encouraging to businesses that are looking to expand or come into our region."

Even better, he said, would be if the county had its own land to offer to developers and companies with the Innovation Zone overlay on it in a business park-like setting.

"That would be kind of taking it to the next level," Dalby said.

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