- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Business leaders in Manassas yesterday gave members of Gov. Mark R. Warner's economic strategy team an earful, suggesting the best way to lure and keep businesses in Virginia is to increase tax incentives for small businesses.
"If I have to pay 41 cents on the dollar and my subcontractor has to pay 41 cents on the dollar, I am going to look elsewhere," said Richard J. Martin, president of Manassas-based Noesis, a materials-focused technology firm.
About 100 business leaders met with members of the governor's panel at the Northern Virginia Community College's Manassas campus yesterday morning for a three-hour discussion on Virginia's economic development. The governor's panel is traveling around the state to hear from businesses about where and how to improve the economic stature of Virginia.
The code of Virginia requires that a new governor submit an economic development plan during his first year in office. Shea Hollifield, deputy director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, said Mr. Warner plans to consider all the suggestions made and announce his plans, titled "One Virginia, One Future," on Dec. 4.
Business leaders were short on the specific outcome of tax cuts for small businesses, but repeatedly told the panel that in order to increase development, the taxes and red tape associated with small businesses needs to be re-evaluated and changed.
Suggestions included giving new businesses a five- to 10-year tax-exemption once they moved into the region, as well as increasing the state's tobacco tax to offset the loss of revenue from small businesses.
Most business leaders present supported raising the sales tax in the transportation referendum this November. Voters in nine Northern Virginia jurisdictions are being asked to raise their sales tax to 5 percent from 4 percent to increase revenue aimed at alleviating traffic congestion in and around the region.
In addition to tax breaks, many in the group encouraged the governor to "think outside the box" and look at new ways to encourage development.
"You should create technology hubs, like the Raleigh Research Triangle [in North Carolina] by allowing universities to devise economic opportunities and incentivize their work," said Dale R. Brown, regional office manager for HSMM, an architectural and engineering firm based in the District that conducts business in Virginia.
Many noted the success of Virginia Tech and the career paths its students take after graduation. They encouraged the governor to do more to keep these graduates in the area, instead of allowing recruiters from Michigan, New York and elsewhere to lure them away.
Another suggestion called for creating a standardized information technologies program in high schools so all students would have a foundation when they graduate.
"This would help someone who is graduating from high school but doesn't plan to go to college, because they would have resources that would be marketable," said Michael F. Kimlick, senior operations manager for ECS Technology, based in Burke.
Mr. Martin said the state and other leaders are focusing too much attention on information technologies and bio-technologies, and instead should be giving some attention to materials technology, which has proved effective.
His company now has a contract with the Pentagon to install photoluminescent lights along the base of the wall of the reconstructed portions of the building destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Mr. Martin said he has been trying for years to get state and federal officials to pay attention to his product which is similar to the glow-in-the-dark stickers children play with, but is a special form of plastic that allows for illumination for eight hours and is akin to the automatic floor lighting on all aircraft. He said no one paid attention because it was not high-tech enough.
Mr. Martin said he met with government officials in August 2001 and received a cool reception. But after it was learned that workers inside the Pentagon had trouble finding their way out after the attacks, he was called Sept. 12, 2001, for more information, he said.
"The devastation of those attacks caused someone in the Pentagon to look outside the box," said Mr. Martin, adding that state leaders need to do the same thing.
"We need to redefine what 'technology' means, and we cannot forget about materials technology," he said.


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