Legislators target job creation at site of former Chrysler plants

Shuttering of Chrysler plants impacted total of 32,000 jobs.

By EVAN YOUNG

A pair of bills filed last week in Jefferson City by area lawmakers aims to create jobs at and around the site of the former Chrysler plants in Fenton.

The proposals, filed in the General Assembly Jan. 27, are designed to attract businesses to the 295-acre site — and any property within a one-mile radius — with existing tax credits and other incentives.

One bill, sponsored by 95th District Rep. Mike Leara, R-Concord, would designate the area an “enhanced enterprise zone,” or EEZ.

Within an EEZ, businesses that create jobs are eligible for state tax credits and local property tax abatement. The program is “proven to reduce unemployment and increase incomes,” Leara said.

“It’s our obligation in Jefferson City to do what we can for our district utilizing the current tools the state has,” Leara said at a news conference last week at Fenton City Hall. “We want to create an environment that encourages growth and attracts businesses to the state.”

Businesses would have to create at least two new jobs to qualify for the incentive.

As proposed, the EEZ would expire Oct. 31, 2014.

The other bill, sponsored by state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, would offer businesses that locate to the area the option of temporarily keeping the withholding tax for jobs they create.

Companies would have to create at least 10 jobs that pay at or above the county average wage, or roughly $23 an hour, to qualify.

Both proposals are expected to be assigned to legislative committees and receive hearings in the next few weeks.

Leara and Schmitt expressed confidence their bills would be well-received by lawmakers.

“My point of view: Job creation, economic development is a bipartisan issue,” Schmitt said. “This is a cooperative effort. I’m going to stand side-by-side with … anyone interested in creating jobs. That’s what this effort is all about.”

The south Chrysler plant opened in 1959, the northern facility in 1966.

Together, they represented one of the largest tax-generating entities in St. Louis County.

But by the summer of 2009, the company had shuttered both plants.

The task of rolling out new Chrysler minivans and Dodge Ram pickup trucks went to factories in Canada and Mexico. Demolition of the buildings began last year and is about halfway complete.

Chrysler’s move impacted 32,000 jobs — not only at the plants but also in the surrounding community, County Executive Charlie Dooley said.

“We have skilled people in our area right now without jobs,” Dooley said last week. “We want to make sure we keep that skilled workforce here, and the only way we can do it is those incentives, and where we get those incentives is through our state … I think we have laid the framework for success.”

Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock said he was told there is a “high degree of interest” in the site from various companies.

“There are several parties that have the financial wherewithal to acquire and develop the site,” Hancock told the Call. “I don’t have any specifics about who that might be, but I took that as very a encouraging sign.”

Officials nearly a year ago announced that $2.6 million in federal grant, state and local moneys would fund an environmental study for the site and help market the location to prospective tenants.

In the end, the site likely will become home to a mixture of vendors, Hancock said.

“That’s a big site for one company to take on. I think that developing it as a mixed use type of site it makes it a lot easier to fill the space, and the total number of jobs could end up being actually more than what we’d get with just one company …,” he said. “Diversification is really important.”