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Trouble Seen in `Enterprise Zones'

One Brooklyn, N.Y., office project shows why new US urban-renewal effort may fail

By David RohdeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 22, 1994



NEW YORK

PUBLIC-HOUSING resident Dwayne Holloway burst out laughing when asked if anyone he knew got a job at the new, $1-billion Metrotech business center across the street.

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``It's a joke, right?'' he responded. ``No one did.''

Metrotech - a local urban-renewal project billed as bringing 20,000 new jobs to Brooklyn by the year 2000 - uses many of the same tactics as the new $3.5-billion national ``empowerment zone'' urban-renewal program enacted by Congress last year.

Both efforts rely heavily on generous tax incentives to lure businesses to blighted areas.

But critics warn that Metrotech shows that tax breaks alone may not be enough to create thousands of new jobs in the inner cities or reduce unemployment among the urban poor. (Clinton plan, right.)

Part of downtown Brooklyn is thriving because of Metrotech, but by most estimates far fewer new jobs than expected have been created since the complex opened four years ago. Many of the 10,000 residents of the Fort Greene public-housing projects across the street now bitterly deride the project.

``It's brought vibrancy and life back to an area that hasn't seen it in years,'' says Jan Rosenberg, a professor of sociology at Long Island University who is studying hiring at Metrotech. ``What it hasn't done I think is connect people in the projects with jobs.''

A generous package of more than $100 million in city and state tax and energy breaks convinced developer Forest City Ratner to build Metrotech and several large finance and high technology firms to move into the modern, granite-and-brick complex.

When the first section of Metrotech opened in 1990 10,000 ``new'' jobs arrived in downtown Brooklyn, but most of them were already filled. Chase Manhattan Bank and other potential employers simply transferred employees from other offices they closed in New York to Metrotech.

Public and private planners had hoped that some of the companies' existing employees would give up their jobs instead of making the longer commute to Brooklyn, but few did.

``The personnel managers I've talked to said there was a very small attrition rate,'' says Earl Haye, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Training and Employment Council, a city-funded agency established to funnel local workers to Metrotech jobs. ``But the economy was so bad that few people were willing to give up their jobs.''

Mr. Haye says that since the council was established 18 months ago, it has placed 53 local residents in full-time jobs at Metrotech. Corporate training programs and city government summer internships employ 50 to 75 people.

``Only in the last 10 months have we seen an increase in jobs,'' Haye says. ``A lot of these corporations just go to temporary agencies for people.''

Receiving well-qualified people from the area's 15 training programs is also a problem.

``When we started this office, a lot of the companies were looking for people with experience'' with certain computer applications, says Haye, who has a staff of four, ``but the programs weren't giving people training for that.''