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Incentives are pushed for growth in business

Economic development leaders in state government want to pair up a couple of financial incentives to help lure companies to Utah or aid in local companies' growth.

Combining the cash incentive under the Industrial Assistance Fund with a tax rebate program would help Utah to be more competitive with other states, they told the Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee on Wednesday.

"We are not nearly as aggressive as the states that are close around us, and when a company is looking to come to a state, they're getting much larger incentive packages (elsewhere)," said Michael Nelson, director of corporate recruitment for the Governor's Office of Economic Development. "Now, we have a great state, and a lot of times, it is our work force and other benefits that attract these companies, and they are coming to the state, but it's something we have to look at and something we have to encourage."

Legislation that created the tax rebate program, HB11, prohibits companies from combining it with other state incentives such as the Industrial Assistance Fund. But upfront IAF money could be used to help a company pay for construction of a Utah site, while a tax rebate could help a company after that.

"There's one thing we want to be very clear about, is there is not a double dipping," Nelson said. "There's a certain model that we run through, and we're not going to provide any more money to any individual company than we do right now, in the blending format."

The governor's office also is seeking:

To eliminate a matching fund requirement for the Centers of Excellence program, which attempts to prompt commercialization of university research, for "nonresearch" schools. Currently, Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State University are primary participants and match each Centers dollar with $2 of their own.

"For small schools, particularly a rural school, a nonresearch school, this is a hurdle that's almost insurmountable," said Nicole Toomey Davis, director of the Centers program.

The matching requirement would still be in place for research institutions that award 50 or more doctoral degrees per year across at least 15 disciplines.

Another bill about the Centers program would require grant money to be returned if the licensee of the developed technology does not exploit the technology in Utah or if it leaves the state within five years after the license is issued.

To encourage rural infrastructure development, including the extension of broadband to underserved rural communities.

One idea is to modify Public Service Commission regulations to enable infrastructure development ahead of demand in economic development zones.

To enable associations, such as small-business associations, to establish group health-care plans for their members.

"I think this legislation is so overdue. . . . This is such a good idea for small businesses to be able to do this," said Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan.