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Editorial: Business, government must act on innate strengths

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Business functions best when government remembers where its expertise lies.

Consider Mechanicsburg's zoning ordinance — soon, we hope, to be changed. In 2010, the borough council thought it could strengthen the core downtown by restricting the kinds of establishments that could open there. To spur retail, the thinking went, personal-service businesses should be banned.

Now, of course, it's evident that services such as salons and barber shops bring repeat customers to a business district, thus increasing exposure and foot traffic for the retailers. Moreover, restoring landlords' options on who uses the commercial spaces in their buildings helps them to maintain their income and property values. Mechanicsburg officials are right to revisit this wrong-footed policy.

But doing nothing at all can be just as bad. Appalachian Brewery would like to broaden its footprint in Harrisburg, but that just hasn't been on the cards, thanks to city officials. Meanwhile, a derelict building on Cameron Street that would be ideal for the company continues to deteriorate, along with hundreds of other substandard or abandoned buildings in the city.

While the current administration has done nothing to turn this situation around, Mayor-elect Eric Papenfuse says he intends to address the issue. Handled right, opportunity for new and existing businesses could be fostered and the city's tax base expanded.

Also discouraging, a tool created decades ago by the state to help municipalities encourage development is still often ignored. The Local Economic Revitalization Tax Abatement program allows county, municipal and school officials acting in concert to grant tax forgiveness on a sliding scale over 10 years. A LERTA can be the deciding factor on where a business decides to locate or reinvest. Yet many communities are wary of them, and Harrisburg even allowed its LERTA to expire in 2010.

LERTA opponents call the tax abatements "giveaways." But we agree with one midstate development official who counters, "How can it be a giveaway when you never had it?"

Business and government have the same goals — stable enterprises that consistently produce profits and maintain jobs — but each needs to stick with what it does best.

With their taxes, and indirectly with their payrolls, businesses support government, on which they depend for roads, public safety, schools and other services. Government, for its part, should support businesses' decisions on where and how to grow rather than presenting obstacles to their success.

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