Enterprise zones bring jobs and growth to six Connecticut communities

Urban enterprise zones inspire new solutions to ''tired problems'' of a depressed minority community, say leaders of a Hartford community agency that has established seven small businesses to provide jobs for ''hard-core unemployed people.''

The officials serve SANDS (South Arsenal Neighborhood Development Enterprise Corporation), located in northern Hartford in one of Connecticut's six enterprise zones. The neighborhood is 68 percent black and 30 percent Puerto Rican.

The zone concept is designed to stimulate housing and business growth in decaying urban neighborhoods. Programs can include such measures as state and local tax breaks for hiring the hard-core unemployed, looser zoning requirements , improved city services, and low-cost loans. Connecticut was the first state to pass an enterprise zone law in October 1982.

''Our problems are multiple,'' comments Carl Hardrick, SANDS youth coordinator, pointing out that in its area, SANDS must deal with ''unemployed youth, 30 percent public housing, 50 percent unskilled labor market, 68 percent unemployed, 65 percent female-headed households, $6,500 neighborhood median income, [and] hardly any capital.''

Nevertheless, SANDS enterprises now include a joint venture, a day-care center, and a maintenance firm. ''Our investments are designed to provide jobs for the people in the zone community, people with limited skills,'' Mr. Hardrick adds. ''In one program, female heads of household can make dolls at home. . . . Our people average an eighth-grade education, and high-tech industry would not help them.''

Connecticut's success boosts hopes for passage of federal legislation, which was advocated by Ronald Reagan when he was a presidential candidate in 1980. ''Based on our first year's experience, we can say the enterprise-zone concept is working, and we have the numbers to prove it,'' John J. Carson, commissioner of the state's Economic Development Department, told the US House Ways and Means Committee Nov. 16 during hearings.

Mr. Carson informed the committee of Connecticut's statewide, first-year accomplishments:

* New investments of more than $62 million.

* 1,300 new jobs.

* 1,900 jobs retained by persuading firms to stay which had intended to relocate.

* 126 new investment projects ranging from high-technology developments to renovated ''mom and pop'' stores.

Connecticut receives no federal assistance for these programs, although federal legislation on enterprise zones is being considered. ''The federal program is long on talk but short on implementation - the US Senate has passed a bill, but the House has yet to act,'' says -Peter Burns, deputy commissioner of the Economic Development Department.

Nationally, 20 states, including Connecticut, have passed enterprise-zone legislation, many of them in anticipation of federal activity. These programs have generated an estimated 17,000 jobs and saved another 5,000 jobs, according to preliminary figures in a national survey taken by the Sabre Foundation of Washington.

Norwalk, Conn., is cited by the foundation in its current issue of Enterprise Zone News, for 52 new businesses and 250 new jobs. Four companies were also dissuaded from relocating, saving 1,200 jobs.

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