Drinking Success

Technology is also playing a key role in the success of the empowerment zone in Atlanta, where a bid utilizing the technological skills of residents and tax incentives was awarded in October when the Atlanta City Council selected a company to privatize the city's water treatment and drinking-water facilities.

United Water Services Atlanta, an affiliate of New Jersey-based United Water Services, submitted the lowest bid, in part because it utilized tax incentives offered through the Atlanta Empowerment Zone Corporation (AEZC).

The contract, a 20-year package, will require that the company locate its regional headquarters in the zone. By doing so, and by ensuring that 20 percent of the company's workforce resides in the zone, the company could receive up to $8,000 per employee in tax incentives through federal, state and local legislation, said
Joe Reid, AEZC executive director.

"Tax incentives in a program like an empowerment zone were used in a partnership with privatization and an economic-development tool to revitalize the urban core," Reid said. "The whole approach to using ratepayers' or taxpayers' revenue and reversing the flow back to the city is what's creative about this whole approach."

Company officials said the project will include the operations and maintenance of the Hemphill and Chattahoochee water treatment facilities, and includes 2,400 miles of service mains and feeder lines. Billing, collections and customer service are also included in the project. The facilities and water system are currently staffed by 535 municipal employees.

"Technology is not the be-all and the do-all, because in the absence of people in programs that are targeting the needs of people, technology doesn't do anything," Reid added. "The issue of gearing up empowerment zones to address the technology jobs of the future is not [merely] an option. It's going to have to be a requirement if we're going to talk about creating real jobs, in realtime, where there are real opportunities."

The council's approval represents one of the nation's largest water systems converted to private management and operation.