Your paper’s November 17, 2019 editorial, “Opportunity Zones for Billionaires,” addresses several issues with the Opportunity Zone Program, but not the whole story. The program does provide a significant incentive to primarily the affluent, but small and medium-sized businesses can, have and will continue to take advantage. Some zones were designated that are not distressed – though 70%+ of the OZs are severely distressed. There is another side to the OZ story that warrants equal time.
To date, there are thousands of zones with leadership hard at work teeing up investment-grade projects. Erie, Pa; Seymour, IN; Orofino, ID; Paducah, KY; and the Wenatchee metro area in rural Washington are engaged with OZ investors to bring back struggling main streets, former industrial sites, and regional economies. No high-end marinas or large development projects to see here – just community leaders doing the basic blocking and tackling armed with a new economic development tool.
Brookville, a community of approximately 2,600 people located in eastern Indiana, demonstrates the role the Opportunity Zone incentive can play. Here, the OZ program supported the renovation of one of the state’s oldest hotels, redevelopment of a full city block, and 47 mixed-income apartment units for seniors. The project will create a theatre, restaurant, assisted living services, pharmacy, and additional commercial space. The total project cost is $10.8m, with Opportunity Zone investment totaling approximately $2.2m. The OZ incentive provided the needed boost for development in a challenging market.
It is true that this legislation, now almost two years old, needs to be assessed, have “tweaks” made, and metrics added to ensure OZ investments link with opportunity for communities and households most in need. Besides, investors and rural communities need a beginner’s course to learn how to talk to each other’s language. Efforts to bridge this very real gulf must be part of the OZ process. However, real transformative change is already brewing in small communities across the country. Dig deeper into this program, and enjoy the positive, redeeming stories that you will find.
Vice President for Economic Development and Community Resiliency
Thomas P. Miller and Associates