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Westmarc seeks West Valley foreign-trade zone

• Carrie Watters
A foreign trade zone is planned for the West Valley, which could lure businesses with federal and state tax breaks as well as making it easier to import and export goods.

The Greater Maricopa Foreign Trade Zone Inc. would be a subsidiary of Westmarc, a group of West Valley cities and businesses that advocate for the region.

After more than a year putting a plan together, Westmarc recently applied to the U.S. Department of Commerce

Participating cities include Avondale, Buckeye, El Mirage, Gila Bend, Goodyear, Peoria and Surprise. Glendale also has expressed interest. Cities within the county's western suburbs are eligible.

The foreign trade zone likely will first be created on four sites: two in Goodyear along Interstate 10 and Loop 303, one in Surprise near Bell Road, and one west of Buckeye in an unincorporated area.

The cities do not pay for the designation.

Developers typically pay the initial fee of about $50,000 depending on variables such as proposed use, according to Curtis Spencer, president of IMS Worldwide, a consultant for the project.

Companies locating in a foreign trade zone also pay an annual fee, although Spencer estimated the overall savings to a company can be between $300,000 and $1 million a year.

Foreign trade zones, which have been around for 75 years, have improved dramatically in recent years, Spencer said.

Improvements include scaling back the number of customs entry forms a company must file on exports, as well as direct delivery on imports. Spencer said the changes allow products to move more quickly in and out of the country, which means money for manufacturers, distribution centers, freight operators and other business in a global economy.

Westmarc officials said the foreign trade zone is already helping the West Valley attract companies. China's Suntech Power Holdings, which recently announced it would open a solar-panel manufacturing plant in the Valley, is considering sites that have or are acquiring foreign trade zone status, according to Westmarc.

One Valley company already using Foreign Trade Zone status is Conair, which has been at the Glendale Airpark nearly 20 years and this month announced expansion plans.

The company, best known as the maker of hair dryers and curling irons, is seeking to expand the status to its newly acquired building.

Conair obtained its designation through a sub-zone of a foreign trade zone administered by Phoenix.

Arizona has six foreign trade zones in Yuma, Nogales, Sierra Vista, the Tucson area, Mesa and Phoenix.

Scottsdale has also expressed interest in pursing a foreign trade zone at its airpark.

The West Valley's would be administered by Westmarc, which also administers the Western Maricopa Enterprise Zone for Maricopa County.

Westmarc's president and chief executive, Jack Lunsford, said pairing the trade zone and enterprise zones "makes perfect sense."

The 15-year old enterprise zone promotes job growth in specific areas by allowing companies to claim state income-tax credits based on the number of jobs created.

"We are thrilled to help bring another economic development tool to our West Valley communities that will assist them, especially at a time like this," Lunsford said.

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