CARIBOU, Maine — Officials at the Northern Maine Development Commission are excited that Aroostook County businesses will be able to continue taking advantage of tax incentives now that The County’s empowerment zone designation has been extended.

The designation will last through the end of the year and was included in the Middle Class Tax Relief Act approved by Congress in December, according to Bob Clark, executive director of NMDC.

The empowerment zone program was created in the early 1990s by the federal government to aid distressed communities by providing opportunities for growth and revitalization. Today, the Aroostook empowerment zone is one of only 10 rural empowerment zones in the country, and one of only two that are based on population loss. Area businesses, organizations and residents have been working together to revitalize northern Maine through this and other programs.

Aroostook County’s designation provides tax incentives for businesses within its boundaries that hire local residents, as well as increased tax deductions for qualifying depreciable property. A tax credit of up to $3,000 can be claimed for every resident within the zone who is hired. The zone does not include all communities in Aroostook, but more than 20 towns and cities, including Houlton, Caribou, Presque Isle, Caswell and Limestone, are a part of it.

Clark said that County businesses have found success with the program. He said Friday that many businesses that have received the $3,000 tax credit have invested that money back into their businesses to make them grow even stronger.

He said that most information about the benefits businesses have reaped must remain confidential, but he called news of the extension “tremendous” for qualifying northern Maine firms.

“It will provide significant positive impact to those employers who qualify for the tax incentives,” said Clark.

Walt Elish, president of the Aroostook Partnership for Progress, agreed. The organization works to promote and expand economic development in the County.

“In these uncertain economic times, any tax relief that local businesses can obtain to increase their bottom line is most welcome,” he added.