Opportunity Zones Overview1:
Opportunity Zones, created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, are a federal economic development tool focused on improving the outcomes of communities across the country, especially in areas that have suffered from disinvestment over many years. Opportunity Zones are designated low-income census tracts where tax incentives are available to groups or individuals who invest in an Opportunity Fund (i.e., an investment vehicle for injecting money in an Opportunity Zone) and hold their capital gains in Opportunity Zone-related assets or property. There are over 8,700 Opportunity Zones (representing 12 percent of all census tracts), with nearly a quarter (just over 23%) in rural areas. By investing in Opportunity Zones, investors stand to gain a temporary deferral on their capital gains taxes if they hold their investments for at least 5 years, and a permanent exclusion from a tax on capital gains from the Opportunity Zones investments if the investments are held for 10 years. For more information on the basics of Opportunity Zones and Opportunity Funds, visit https://opportunityzones.hud.gov/ or see https://www.cdfifund.gov/Pages/Opportunity-Zones.aspx.
Opportunity Zones and the CEDS
To effectively position themselves for investment through Opportunity Zones, communities need to have a strong economic development plan in place that can send a signal to the private sector that the area has established a clear vision for the future, identified its important assets and challenges, and engaged key stakeholders. EDA believes that encouraging the desired private sector investment requires an understanding of the Opportunity Zones and the communities in which they reside from a regional perspective. Many of the assets touted within an individual community as reasons to invest in a particular Opportunity Zone are, in fact, regional assets. By placing a community’s assets and strengths in a regional context, the advantages of the entire region can further incentivize investment. The inherently regional focus of the CEDS therefore provides a unique platform to capture and promote the advantages of Opportunity Zone communities within a distinct economic region by highlighting and emphasizing the linkages among the key regional assets.
Many of the current recommendations on how communities should make the most of their Opportunity Zones (see the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Opportunity Zones Community Playbook at http://www.lisc.org/opportunity-zones/community-partners-playbook/) highlight the importance of planning and stakeholder engagement – convening key players, gathering economic and demographic data on the area, identifying economic assets and challenges, etc. – all of which are important existing elements of the CEDS planning process. As such, the CEDS is well-positioned to inform a deeper dive into the Opportunity Zones within each region. Moreover, including Opportunity Zone-content in (or appended to) the CEDS serves as a mechanism to further promote the economic attractiveness of each region by emphasizing Opportunity Zones as key investment ready locations.
Recommended Resource(s): In addition to LISC, other great Opportunity Zones sources of information and tools include: the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA) at https://www.cdfa.net/cdfa/cdfaweb.nsf/resourcecenters/OZ.html; Novogradac at https://www.novoco.com/resource-centers/opportunity-zones-resource-center; Milken Institute at http://milkeninstitute.org/programs/opportunity-zones; and the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) at https://eig.org/opportunityzones. EIG, in particular, has launched an interactive online portal (sourced from local press and public announcements) highlighting many innovative and impactful Opportunity Zone developments.
Similar to EDA and the CEDS, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires many of its grantees to develop a three- to five-year Consolidated Plan (Con Plan). EDA believes that a better alignment of the CEDS and the Con Plans will allow grantees receiving funds from both agencies to optimize the investment of Federal, state and local resources for sustainable, innovative economic and community development projects. Grantees are strongly encouraged to coordinate their CEDS and Con Plan processes to the greatest extent possible and to align these separate plans to maximize the community’s ability to attract and support Opportunity Zone investment and achieve sustainable community revitalization (see https://www.eda.gov/edi/planning/ for more information).
The Opportunity Zones content and structure within each CEDS may vary based on the needs, regional focus, and capacities of each EDD or community or tribal organization. For those regions that encompass one or more Opportunity Zones, the new content may be as straightforward as an overview of regional Opportunity Zones in relation to CEDS-identified goals, objectives, and/or projects, or it could take the form of an appended, in-depth “regional investment prospectus” aimed at potential investors. Like the CEDS itself, how and to what extent Opportunity Zones are incorporated into economic development planning may vary based on the needs and focus of each region. Either path – a separate section within the CEDS or an appended regional prospectus – is a viable way to help make the most of a region’s Opportunity Zones from a planning perspective.
For those EDDs looking to establish an Opportunity Zone-focused section within the CEDS, there are three basic elements that we recommend be included to enhance the economic attractiveness of the region:
- Inventory/map the Opportunity Zones in the region: Provide a general overview of the Opportunity Zones (including the distinct census tracts) within the larger regional context, while adding information on the communities in which the Opportunity Zones reside. While each Opportunity Zone may have its own unique character, consider identifying common attributes that allow the Opportunity Zones to share a common typology within the region. These groupings (i.e., urban/rural, industry cluster, proximity to anchor institutions, etc.) may help gauge the compatibility of potential Opportunity Zone projects within the existing environment (see both www.statsamerica.org and the U.S. Census Bureau On the Map Tool, https://onthemap.ces.census.gov/). Also, consider mapping the location of the Opportunity Zones among existing local and regional assets and typology to provide an overall spatial context (see the public edition/open map of www.policymap.com).
- Identify key partners/collaborations: Provide an overview of local/regional stakeholders involved with Opportunity Zones, including public/private/nonprofit organizations actively involved in the planning and implementation of community and economic development. This may include Community Development Corporations, community groups, state and local governments, leaders of anchor institutions, and philanthropic organizations. Identify any local or regional “champions” of Opportunity Zones – including regional consortiums (see below) that may have been established specifically to leverage Opportunity Zones – as touchpoints and points-of-contact for potential investors. Highlight specific local or state incentives that may be available (see below for more on incentives). A focus should also be given to economic inclusiveness, and how the Opportunity Zone effort is working to maximize economic benefits for people in low-income communities.
- Recognize linkages with the data, goals/objectives, and priority projects within the CEDS: Re-emphasize key data elements (including socio-economic data points and trends) from the CEDS that have a direct linkage to or impact on the individual Opportunity Zones as investment-ready locations. Key data on population, higher education enrollment, workforce, and major employers may be particularly ripe for inclusion. Identify any SWOT-related linkages, including market strengths and specific assets (e.g., infrastructure highlights) that may be key to driving investor interest. Highlight specific goals or objectives within the CEDS that have a connection to the Opportunity Zones, and identify specific priority projects that may address asset gaps in each of the Opportunity Zone communities. On the flip side, incorporating Opportunity Zones in the CEDS may require specific updates to the SWOT, a revision of the goals and/objectives, and a change to the priority projects as part of an annual update or five-year revision of the CEDS (if applicable/pertinent to the overall economic development strategy of the region).
Recommended Resource: Statsamerica.org has established an Opportunity Zones mapping tool (http://www.statsamerica.org/opportunity/) that will allow users to see Opportunity Zones in relation to boundaries and information specific to each EDD, which can be helpful when developing Opportunity Zone-related content for the CEDS.
Beyond the basics noted above, certain regions may wish to develop (in addition to or in place of a separate section in the CEDS) a “regional investment prospectus.” This prospectus can be used to describe and communicate regional (and specific local) competitive advantages, community partnerships, and projects that are ready for public and private investment. Intended for regions that want to put a high-profile emphasis on their Opportunity Zones and the potential associated benefits, the regional investment prospectus can specifically help:
- market their Opportunity Zones to local, regional, and national investors
- highlight their regional assets to have maximum economic impact
- coordinate stakeholders around a common vision of inclusive growth
A regional prospectus may include, in addition to the elements noted above:
- Purpose of the prospectus/introduction to Opportunity Zones: Point to the prospectus as a marketing strategy, economic development policy brief, and a “way-finding” mechanism to help potential investors find and explore the region. Consider noting how Opportunity Zones can facilitate and integrate investments generated by the new tax benefit to complement current and future economic development activities, helping to define or emphasize the region’s economic development vision for the future. Also, provide an overview of the Opportunity Zones program and where more detailed information can be found.
- Key partners/collaborations: As noted above, identify the organizations and groups involved with Opportunity Zones, particularly any local or regional partnerships or consortiums that have been established specifically to bolster Opportunity Zone efforts.
- About the region/region by the numbers: Use this portion to orient investors to the region, highlighting socio-economic data and related trends. Provide an overview of population, employment, workforce/talent, and other data and information that emphasizes what makes the regional special. Use both quantitative evidence and qualitative regional knowledge. Make sure the information provided links to the key background information in the CEDS as applicable.
- Market strengths: Summarize what gives the Opportunity Zones in the region market traction and are good targets for investment. Identify regional assets (including transportation) and how they enhance or link to specific Opportunity Zone characteristics. Note any anchor institutions (major employers, universities, hospitals, etc.) and the capital investments they recently made or are planning to make.
- Institutional capacity: Highlight applicable financing tools (zoning, joint ventures, tax credits, etc.). Identify public and private initiatives (including existing economic development projects and programs) already undertaken, both regionally and locally, that will impact the Opportunity Zones. Determine specific local and state incentives that may be available (see more on incentives below).
- Opportunity Zones in the region and typology: Identify the specific location of the Opportunity Zones in the region, including the census tracts that comprise the Opportunity Zones. As noted above, consider identifying common attributes that allow the Opportunity Zones to share a common typology within the region. Map the location of the Opportunity Zones within the region, including in relation to other regional assets (major transportation networks, waterways, etc.) to provide context and spatial linkages.
- Individual community profiles: Provide specific information and data on the individual Opportunity Zones and the communities in which they reside. This should include the types of projects and the economic (and social) impact goals of each community, with linkages to the region and the CEDS. Consider profiling specific projects that are both investor ready and community enhancing. If individual county or community prospectuses exist, include them here (see below for more information).
Recommended Resource(s): Accelerator for America has developed a “how-to” guide for localities to develop an investment prospectus (see http://www.acceleratorforamerica.com/OZGuide). While aimed at individual communities, the suggestions can easily be “scaled-up” in the development of a regional prospectus. As of late-2019 over two-dozen individual investment prospectuses have been developed and can be accessed at http://www.acceleratorforamerica.com/tools.
In addition to the example prospectuses identified at Accelerator for America, check out the city of Montrose’s (Montrose, CO) prospectus for a smaller city/town perspective that may be helpful in scaling-up smaller communities in an EDD into a regional prospectus: https://www.cityofmontrose.org/DocumentCenter/View/39168/Montrose-CO-Opportunity-Zone-Invitation-To-Invest?bidId=
A number of cities that contain Opportunity Zones have already developed (or are in the process of developing) an investment prospectus. If individual, locality-based prospectuses exist within your region, a regional prospectus effort may simply consist of compiling and linking/integrating the individual city prospectuses and highlighting detailed local strengths through a CEDS-driven regional lens. If no local investment prospectuses exist, the regional prospectus effort provides an opening to reach out and help communities that have Opportunity Zones promote their local and regional advantages. Specifically, individual prospectuses may provide an opportunity to take a more detailed look at the assets found in each community. Part of this process should include developing an asset map for each community that not only identifies each communities' strengths but also identifies critical asset gaps, and which planned projects may address the specific local (or regional) asset gaps.
Recommended Resource(s): Check out the Acadiana Planning Commission’s (APC) Opportunity Zone regional prospectus, templates for local opportunity zone prospectuses, and a regional Opportunity Zone website at https://investacadiana.org/. APC’s Strategic Regional Opportunity Zone Initiative is focused on long-term reinvestment and cultural preservation and advances the goals and objectives of Acadiana’s CEDS.
In addition to the excellent regional prospectus developed by APC, a number of other planning organizations have begun engaging in Opportunity Zones activities in their regions, in different ways and at different levels. For example, the Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning & Development Commission in Michigan has created an online mapping tool that can be used to better understand the infrastructure surrounding the census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones in the region (see more at http://euprpdc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=01049e08b82349a0aee9d789446ad7fd). The Isothermal Commission in North Carolina has developed a number of online resources and drafted a prospectus template and an individual prospectus for each of the region’s Opportunity Zones (see more at https://regionc.org/opportunity-zones/).
Like the CEDS itself, the regional prospectus is an opportunity to put a “best foot forward” to attract investors and effectively market the region. Therefore, the look and feel of the regional prospectus is critical and should be structured in a way that compellingly communicates its concepts to key stakeholders. Creativity, coupled with a professional and appealing format is highly recommended. Charts, graphs and professional photos should be used extensively to draw attention and bolster the document’s primary messages.
Other Key Opportunity Zone Elements
In addition to the recommended components noted above, additional elements may be included in an Opportunity Zone-focused section of the CEDS or in a separate regional prospectus as applicable:
As part of an overall institutional capacity (see above), a number of states and localities have created or are leveraging specific incentives to help generate investor interest in Opportunity Zones. This information should be investigated and highlighted in the CEDS or regional prospectus since the pairing of Opportunity Zones with additional incentives (i.e., “incentive stacking”) is proving to be a key factor in attracting investors. For example, New Mexico’s incentive program for Opportunity Zone (OZ) projects offers $1 million bonus to investments that meet certain benchmarks (www.nmopportunity.com) and Ohio gives investors an additional 10% tax credit if they invest in one of Ohio’s Opportunity Zones (https://opportunityzones.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/ooz/home). Maryland has an interactive tool to help identify incentives by Opportunity Zone location (https://maryland.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=1cc479d2dc3948239f0c47bda8b6967e).
In addition to state and local incentives, the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council has identified over 190 federal programs where targeting, preference, or additional support could be granted to Opportunity Zones: (https://www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PA/documents/OppZone_Agency_Completed_Actions.pdf PDF). EDA, in particular, has added Opportunity Zones as one of its five Investment Priorities to help significantly increase the number of catalytic Opportunity Zone-related projects funded by EDA, and made Opportunity Zones eligible for funding from EDA through its special needs category – even if the area would not meet EDA’s regular economic distress criteria.
States and localities have also begun to form consortiums to organize and drive Opportunity Zone-related activity and, particularly, to serve as an early entry point for investors. Check out examples such as Opportunity Cleveland (https://www.opportunitycle.com/) and Opportunity Investment Consortium Indiana (https://www.opportunityinvestmentconsortium.com/).
These consortiums are focused on a number of different activities including:
- providing training and technical assistance on Opportunity Zones to various public/private/nonprofit stakeholders
- establishing an online presence (see below) for Opportunity Zones that can serve as source of information, a marketing tool and as a deal portal for both businesses and investors interested in Opportunity Zone projects
- pressing states and localities for increased or additional incentives related to Opportunity Zones.
Consortiums, as well as any related public, private, or nonprofit groups organized around the issue of Opportunity Zones, should be noted in the CEDS section or the regional prospectus focused on key partnerships and collaborations.
Recommended Resource(s): Check out the Rockefeller Foundation, which, through its Community Capacity Building Initiative, will channel financial and human resources support to six cities, including funding for a Chief Opportunity Zone Officer embedded in city government. The Rockefeller Foundation has also helped launch (along with Smart Growth America) an Opportunity Zones National Academy—for Chicago, Seattle, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Norfolk—to build capacity and foster inclusive economic development focused on Opportunity Zones (see both https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/our-work/initiatives/opportunity-zones/ and https://smartgrowthamerica.org/new-national-opportunity-zones-academy/).
The creation of an online presence, including an interactive website, can be a critical tool in helping investors identify the various Opportunity Zones within a particular region and assess the resources, incentives and project possibilities that may exist. Much like a regional prospectus, a creative, data-driven online presence can serve as an early entry point or “way-finding” mechanism to help potential investors find and explore the region, while providing a platform to potentially start marketing projects to Opportunity Funds. For example, check out Erie, PA’s “Flagship Opportunity Zone” site at https://www.erieflagshipopportunityzone.com/. Also see the “Opportunity Exchange,” an online marketplace for Opportunity Zone projects seeking investment (https://www.theopportunityexchange.com/).
While no federal reporting requirements currently exist related to Opportunity Zones, regions are highly encouraged to measure and report on the outcomes of their Opportunity Zone efforts in a transparent and accessible manner. Measuring and reporting on these outcomes will help to demonstrate that Opportunity Zones are providing tangible benefits to regions and communities, helping to drive positive social and economic change.
Recommended Resource: Again, check out LISC’s Opportunity Zones Community Playbook at http://www.lisc.org/opportunity-zones/community-partners-playbook/, particularly the section on developing impact metrics. LISC identifies a number of organizations that have begun to craft metrics, as well as recommendations on types of outcomes that should be measured.
1 The information contained herein is general in nature and based on authorities that are subject to change. It is not intended and should not be construed as legal, accounting or tax advice or opinion.