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BY BILL FREEHLING
Many companies that do work for the federal government have expressed interest in moving to Fredericksburg because of a recent change that made the entire city a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, city economic development officials say.
Three of the city's five census tracts have been a part of the U.S. Small Business Administration's HUBZone program for some time. The remaining two tracts--an area that includes much of downtown, the University of Mary Washington and a stretch of Lafayette Boulevard south of the Blue and Gray Parkway--were added to the program Oct. 1.
The HUBZone program helps businesses in areas with lower incomes and higher unemployment rates. HUBZone-certified firms can get a competitive advantage on federal contracts.
Having all of Fredericksburg included in the program has simplified the decision-making process of companies interested in locating their principal office here, Assistant Economic Development Director Richard Tremblay said. It's also made it easier to satisfy the requirement that 35 percent of a company's employees must live in a HUBZone.
Tremblay said dozens of people have attended city workshops on the HUBZone program or spoken to his office about it. Many of the firms have expressed an interest in downtown.
Jason Cohen recently made that decision for his ILM Corp., which digitizes and secures sensitive documents for federal and other clients. Cohen moved his company earlier this year from Industrial Court in Spotsylvania County to a 5,000-square-foot building his family purchased and renovated at 600 Lafayette Blvd. that used to be an auto service station.
Cohen made the move in large part because of the city's status as a HUBZone. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative is now leasing ILM's 6,000-square-foot former home.
Jayne Armstrong, Richmond district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, attended an event held Wednesday to congratulate Cohen on his firm's relocation and designation as a HUBZone company. City Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw, economic development officials, representatives from fellow Fredericksburg HUBZone company Marstel-Day and people who helped ILM relocate also attended.
Though the entire Fredericksburg region has a low jobless rate and an economy that routinely outperforms that of the state and nation, the city itself typically registers higher unemployment rates and lower incomes.
That makes Fredericksburg especially appealing to HUBZone-certified companies, said Amy LaMarca, who serves on the city's Economic Development Authority and is director of business development for Affinity Fidelis Consulting and Technologies LLC, a government contractor in the city that is working on its HUBZone certification. She noted that many HUBZone communities are in more impoverished regions that aren't as well-located.
A stretch of Spotsylvania bordered roughly by State Route 3, Harrison Road and Salem Church Road also recently joined the HUBZone program.
The designation will last at least eight years and could be extended beyond that time depending on how jobless rates and area incomes look in five years.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405