UNDERSTANDING OPPORTUNITY ZONES
TPMA has been actively involved with Opportunity Zone initiatives since the inception of the legislation.
Our approach includes:
- In-depth research and analysis
- Community leadership development
- Identification of Initial Investments
- Long-term deal flow pipeline
- Aligned OZ funding with community objectives
Opportunity Zones (OZs) provide a new economic development tool to promote investment in distressed census tracts through legislation enacted by the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Opportunity Zones were nominated by each state’s governor, incentivizing investments to address local needs in areas such as business growth, real estate development, and area improvements. There are approximately 8,700 Opportunity Zones throughout the country, and while each Opportunity Zone offers investors the same federal capital gains tax advantages, all Zones are not created equal.
It is estimated that there are over $6.1 trillion of eligible capital gains available to fund projects in Opportunity Zones. All Opportunity Zones will compete for this pool of investment, but some Zones will stand out due to apparent pro-investment market conditions. However, most Zones, given their designation as “distressed,” will have to position strategically themselves to attract investment.
With a wealth of knowledge, TPMA has used its expertise to develop five steps to aid communities in accessing activating, and expanding resources to help maximize zone opportunities.
Five Steps that Can Help Communities
TPMA’s OZ work to date has focused on assisting communities in completing the following five steps:
1. Assess and profile local OZs
2. Assist local leadership to understand how to create synergies between this tool and local programs
3. Establish a plan for transformative development
4. Develop a strategy that aligns with private investment objectives and expectations
5. Market and solicit local and national investors that align with the community’s strategic objectives
“The typical profile of an OZ real estate investor is someone who is interested in tax savings, wealth-building, and preservation with a medium- to a long-term hold period.”
EMERGING LESSONS ABOUT OZs
Community development professionals are well aware that Opportunity Zones could be the most powerful economic revitalization tool to come along in a generation. What isn’t so well understood is how to attract OZ investors to census tracts that, for the most part, have experienced long-term disinvestment.
Thomas P. Miller & Associates has spent the past 24 months talking to local government and community officials across the country about how they plan to take advantage of the OZ incentive. The most common answer is, “We don’t understand what the first step is.” Often the community is waiting for a set of instructions or guidelines to follow that will help them to link to OZ funds. Many local leaders do not clearly understand that private investors are the gateway funding source.
During our time working with communities, we have identified key takeaways that may help leaders better organize around their zones.
These Leasons Include:
- Many zones were hurriedly picked. This is not the fault of the states or communities. The time allotted to select zones resulted in a rushed selection process. As a result, many zones have had little preparation to ready them for investment.
- States are still learning how they can assist local leaders to prepare their zones for investment. States are attempting to work with OZ leaders on several fronts, but more focus on effective state-led partnerships are needed.
- Local leadership must prepare their OZs to be “investment ready.” OZ activities may range from basic planning, to project packaging, to creating public-private partnerships. Only a handful of zones are ready to satisfy the expectations of the investment community.
- Not all zones are created equal. “Glamour zones,” typically in growing metropolitan areas are gaining most of the investor attention. Distressed zones in other urban and rural areas are struggling to be noticed.
- Many communities need to seek the additional capacity to tee up their zones for investment. Organizing struggling real estate and deal packaging requires experience and time.
- Too many communities are focusing on traditional expansion and attraction investments rather than broader transformational strategies involving inclusion, quality of place, and improved household opportunities. All of these outcomes are possible with proper preparation.
- There is confusion regarding how long the OZ incentive is in place. While the deferral on current capital gain liability is time-sensitive through December 2026, the future gain tax exemption runs until January 1, 2048
- Most communities are not familiar with investor terminology. It is important that OZs use terms that investors understand and respond to. The idea is to sell the investment opportunity a zone offers, not the community.
- Rural communities and smaller towns, in most cases, are the least prepared to take advantage of the OZ program. If they are to realize success, outside technical assistance must be offered to local leaders to plan, package, and implement.
- Like most sophisticated new tools, a user guide is necessary. Thomas P. Miller & Associates can assist with establishing a framework that provides a clear set of steps for local leaders to follow as they work to take advantage of the OZ program.