Douglas County is now a recovery zone.
But the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t be coming to Lawrence to help with aftermath of a flood or tornado.
Instead, the County Commission on Monday took the step because of the economic recession — mainly the 6.1 percent unemployment rate and decreasing property values.
The designation gives local businesses and governments access to low-interest bonds through federal stimulus legislation aimed at spurring economic development.
Local economic development leaders said the financing tool would lower payments for businesses wanting to start some type of project.
“This might tip you into the we-can-afford-it category,” said Roger Zalneraitis, Lawrence’s economic development coordinator.
County commissioners said the bonds would allow local businesses to put people back to work either through expansion or construction projects.
The county and cities within the county have authority to allocate $11.7 million in bonds for private development projects aimed at creating or retaining jobs. An additional $7.8 million in bonds can be used to finance public projects, like extending infrastructure to help attract new businesses to the area.
One specific project already mentioned is the city’s plan to extend water and sewer services to the Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Lawrence. City leaders have said the extension was needed to accommodate potential aviation-oriented businesses, which might want to relocate or expand there.
During their 6:35 p.m. meeting Wednesday, county commissioners will consider allocating $2 million to the city from the public bonds to finance the airport improvements.
Zalneraitis said the public bonds could also provide funding for job-training programs.
The bonds to support private development projects would be used to finance construction of new facilities for businesses or expansion for companies already in the county.
“Those are things that I would really like to see those bonds be used for,” said Beth Johnson, vice president for economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
Economic development officials are also now on the clock to put the bonds to use because the Kansas Department of Commerce might recapture any funds not allocated by July 1, 2010. But County Commissioner Jim Flory said he expected private and public entities to try to take advantage of the favorable interest rates the bonds carry.