Small Business

Uncle Sam's Hire Calling


By Karen E. Klein Q: What kind of government aid can I get to start a business in a low-income area?

---- F.G., Atlanta

A: There are myriad national, state, and local incentives for companies to locate in and/or employ workers from low-income areas, including utility tax breaks, work-opportunity tax credits, preferential government contracts, and funding and management assistance. The trick is navigating the possibilities, narrowing them down, and deciding which will benefit your company most, given the inevitable paperwork, like applications and reporting requirements.

On the federal level, check out the Small Business Administration's HUBZone (historically underutilized business zone) program, www.sba.gov/hubzone. This will help you learn how your business can become a preferred government contractor if your company's principal office is in a HUBZone (maps are available online), or if 35% of your workforce lives in a HUBZone (not necessarily the one where your business is located).

The other major federal program is the Empowerment Zone & Enterprise

Community Initiative, www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/ezec/index.cfm, which is administered by the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Dept. Tax credits of up to $3,000 annually per qualified employee are available to businesses located in EZ/EC zones, as are other tax benefits, funding help, and management-training resources.

OPTIONS APLENTY. Plenty of state and local programs also exist, and the offerings can be overwhelming, experts say. But don't waste your money paying a private company to research the possibilities and help you apply, because the information should be readily accessible for free from public resources.

In Atlanta, you might start with the Atlanta Empowerment Zone Corp., a consortium of private and public groups designed to funnel social, economic, and educational resources into Atlanta's empowerment zone. They offer local tax benefits, social service block grants, state tax credits, and private bond financing through an alliance of local lenders. For maps and contact information, try

www.ezec.gov/ezec/GA/atlanta.html.

In Georgia, the Governor's Small Business Center also offers advice and resources. Link to the Web site from the state's Administrative

Services Dept. page, www.doas.state.ga.us, by clicking on "products and services" and then going to the GSBC link. Your local government's business or community-development office should be familiar with additional state and federal aid programs administered locally. Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at smartanswers@businessweek.com, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 6th Floor, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.


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