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The cities of Lockport and North Tonawanda will be applying jointly to designate depressed areas of their cities as a special state economic development zone.

Niagara County will prepare the joint application for an Empire Zone, as the state's economic development zones are now called.

Samuel M. Ferraro, county commissioner of planning, development and tourism, said permission was received last week from the two cities to apply.

Businesses locating in such zones receive an array of tax breaks lasting as long as 15 years. There are 58 Empire Zones; the only one in Niagara County is in Niagara Falls.

John R. Simon, executive director of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency, said his staff will prepare the application. He said state law allows Empire Zones to comprise up to two square miles, but all the land need not be contiguous. In fact, it doesn't even have to be in the same municipality.

Lockport and North Tonawanda each will be allowed to propose up to one square mile for the special status.

To be eligible, a census tract must have a poverty rate of at least 20 percent and unemployment at least 25 percent above the statewide average.

Simon said he will present a draft application to the cities in about a month.

The last state application period for Empire Zones closed last December, but Simon said there's a possibility some late applications may be allowed this year. If not, the cities will have their data together the next time Albany opens the window, Simon said.

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