The Southwest Licking school board on Aug. 28 voted 5-0 to approve a donation agreement with the Ascena Retail Group, hinting that the company likely is to expand its operations at the Etna Corporate Park.

The Southwest Licking school board on Aug. 28 voted 5-0 to approve a donation agreement with the Ascena Retail Group, hinting that the company likely is to expand its operations at the Etna Corporate Park.

The Ascena Retail Group is a leading national specialty retailer of apparel for women and tween girls, operating through its subsidiaries, Dressbarn, Maurices and Justice brands. In 2009, Ascena purchased the Limited spinoff Tween Brands, which currently operates a distribution center in the Etna Corporate Park.

Ascena consultant Marti Brenner previously told board members that the corporation was considering expanding the distribution center and creating a new and separate e-commerce center near the park. The e-commerce facility would add another 400 jobs to the region, while the expansion of the distribution center would add more than 200.

Brenner said Ascena also was considering a site in Greencastle, Ind., for one or both projects.

Southwest Licking treasurer Richard Jones said it's his understanding that Ascena plans to expand its existing distribution center in Etna Corporate Park, but he said there's been no decision yet as to whether Ascena will also build the e-commerce facility in the park.

"I know (expanding the distribution center) definitely has been decided as long as all the incentives and everything go through correctly," Jones said.

Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb said Aug. 30 Ascena had not confirmed the expansion of its existing facility, but, he said, Ascena representatives plan to bring a resolution to the commissioners Sept. 6 to take advantage of the tax abatement offered by the Southwest Licking district.

"The attorneys are working on the paperwork," he said. "We take that as a positive."

Southwest Licking school board members voted 5-0 during a special meeting Aug. 7 to offer a 100 percent, 15-year tax abatement to the Ascena Retail Group as an incentive to expand and retain its operations in Etna Corporate Park.

Without the abatement, board members feared Ascena would take the entire operation to Greencastle and shut down the Etna facility, which employs roughly 300 people. The Etna facility's current tax abatement expires next year.

Jones told board members that the way state funding currently works, the state would cut back its funding to the school district by slightly more than the tax revenue the district would receive from the Ascena projects without the abatement. He said Ascena would agree to pay the district 10 percent of what it would pay in taxes if there were no abatement.

Jones said if Ascena expands the existing Etna facility, it will front the district roughly $116,000, then pay the district about $10,500 per year for the remaining 14 years of the abatement. If the e-commerce project also were built, the district would receive twice that amount.

Jones said the district won't receive the money from Ascena until 2014, assuming the expansion takes place as planned.