“For us it means jobs.”
Turner Station, an historically Black neighborhood south of Dundalk in Baltimore County, has for years seen jobs vanish and residents move away.
The community is hoping legislation being introduced by U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, will help reverse its economic decline.
Turner Station qualifies as an economically depressed opportunity zone which means businesses that locate there and create jobs can get tax incentives.
Next door to Turner Station is a mega job creator, Tradepoint Atlantic, the global shipping center being developed on the site once home to Bethlehem Steel. Tradepoint cannot qualify as an opportunity zone because it’s an industrial site. No one lives there.
Congressman Ruppersberger’s legislation, named the Rust to Revitalization Act, would change that, by letting Tradepoint piggyback on Turner Station’s opportunity zone.
Under Ruppersberger’s legislation, a site with no population would qualify as an opportunity zone if it had been used previously for industry and had been contaminated. The site at Sparrows Point was polluted by decades of steelmaking.
Ruppersberger said, “It must also be adjacent on at least one side to a populated census tract that is already an opportunity zone.”
That’s where Turner Station comes in.
Olivia Lomax has lived in Turner Station her entire life. She said her son, two grandsons, and a granddaughter work at Tradepoint.
“I’m always telling people, go down to Tradepoint Atlantic,” Lomax said. “They have jobs there. They have good jobs. You get good benefits. Check it out.”
When Bethlehem Steel declined then closed, thousands of jobs went with it. That hit Turner Station hard. Lomax’s father worked there.
“When the mill started closing, it was a hard time for everybody, it really was,” Lomax said.
Since 2014, Tradepoint Atlantic has been cleaning up and developing the 3,300 acre site, which has access to I-695, the Chesapeake Bay and two rail lines. Around 12,000 people work there. Various businesses, including FedEx, Amazon, Volkswagen and BMW are there. Last week United Safety Technology announced it will bring around 2,000 jobs to Tradepoint, where it plans to make medical exam gloves.
But hundreds of acres remain undeveloped. Tradepoint Executive Vice-President Aaron Tomarchio said it will take more than $1 billion in investment to finish the job. Making it an opportunity zone will help make that happen.
“When businesses are looking at locating in different states or in different jurisdictions, they look at the incentives that are on the table,” Tomarchio said. “This is an additional incentive that can be brought to bear to make this site more attractive for investment, and specifically the large-scale investment that will be required to make anything happen here.”
Opportunity zone incentives include allowing businesses to take advantage of tax deferments.
Tomarchio said industrial growth at Sparrows Point will help nearby neighborhoods like Turner Station. Tomarchio said Tradepoint will help Turner Station tell its story.
“We will use the marketing presence and might of Tradepoint Atlantic to make sure that investors know about the opportunities in Turner Station so that we can attract investments into the Turner Station community,” Tomarchio said.
Michael Thompson, a community leader in Turner Station said the neighborhood would benefit.
“For us it means jobs,” Thompson said. “And jobs mean money. Money means future. The investment in that community over there, that means homeowners, housing, more recreation, better education, and by all, opportunity.”
Olivia Lomax has high hopes for what this will mean for her community.
“People will come, and the community will grow,” Lomax said. “Those empty houses will be filled up and children will be running around playing. It’s a great community and this is just the beginning.”
Ruppersberger said his legislation would apply nationally. He said there are as many as 100 sites in the country that could qualify if his legislation becomes law.