Operating a business in Hesperia has just become more affordable.

On April 1, the city will become a California Department of Housing and Community Development Enterprise Zone, qualifying businesses within the zone (which covers much, but not all of the city) for state tax credits and benefits, including hiring credits, sales and use tax credits, business expense deductions and more.

"It'll hopefully not only bring in new jobs, but also help people expand existing businesses," City Manager Mike Podegracz said Friday.

The enterprise zone covers Hesperia's residential area, and the commercial corridors along Interstate 15, Main Street and Bear Valley Road.

Employers in the zone who hire new employees who make between $8 and $12 an hour and meet other qualifying criteria can get up to a $38,000 tax credit over a five year period.

Among the benefits of doing business in the enterprise zone:

* Purchases of qualified machinery or parts can earn tax credits.
* Lenders to businesses in the enterprise zone are eligible for benefits.
* Businesses operating in the enterprise zone earn preference points when competing for state contracts.

According to the HCD, enterprise zones saw poverty decrease 7.35 percent more than the rest of the state between 1990 and 2000, along with an additional 1.2 percent decrease in unemployment, a 7.1 percent increase in household income and 3.5 increase in wage and salary benefits.

Other programs and incentives are also possible, including incentives for hiring employees from designated regions hit by high unemployment, including Hesperia and Barstow.

Hesperia currently is suffering a 17 percent unemployment rate, and city officials are hoping the enterprise zone designation can help change that.

"We were expecting to decrease the city's unemployment level for a year for the first two years," said economic development analyst Ted Shove, "And another half of a percent for a year for years three through five."

The enterprise zone designation lasts until 2025, and the city can reapply to extend it at that time.

Businesses within the zone need to apply for enterprise zone status. In the coming months, the city will hold workshops explaining the application process and the perks of achieving it to employers. For more information, call 760-947-1906 or e-mail ez@cityofhesperia.us.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star