‘Opportunity Zone’ designation could spur local investment

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A federal program approved for 252 low-income census tracts, including three in Wilson County, could mean more investment and development.

Gov. Roy Cooper recommended the Opportunity Zone sites across North Carolina in coordination with 2017 federal legislation to offer qualified investors tax incentives for projects in the low-income neighborhoods. The zones in North Carolina represent more than 1.1 million residents and nearly 45,000 families with children in poverty.

“We’re pleased that communities in every corner of our state will be able to utilize this new development tool,” N.C. Commerce Deputy Secretary Napoleon Wallace said in a statement. “With the certification of our proposed zones, our local and regional partners can accelerate their work to identify and prepare projects and investments in their areas suitable for equity capital.”

Officials said the U.S. Treasury Department is developing other criteria and guidelines to define how funding will be allocated for projects in opportunity zones. No timeline was given for when capital will be available, but officials estimate it will be late this year or early 2019.

“Opportunity Zones are designed to provide a catalyst for sorely needed private investment and economic development in low-income communities like those in eastern North Carolina,” U,S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield said. “I am hopeful that the designated zones will spur new investments, new businesses and new good-paying jobs in the 1st District and across the state. I applaud the Treasury Department for approving Governor Cooper’s nominations.”

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which included the Opportunity Zone legislation, allowed each state to designate up to 25 percent of total low-income census tracts for the program, and with more than 1,000 tracts, North Carolina was allotted 252 zones. Officials studied data and local priorities to narrow down the tracts for nomination to the Treasury Department.

More than 30 of the tracts are in Butterfield’s 1st Congressional District, and the state commerce department considers 10 of the 14 counties in the district to be the most economically distressed in the state, including Edgecombe County.

Butterfield said the program’s new investment capital and economic development could greatly benefit the communities.

“Governor Cooper understands some of the challenges we see in eastern North Carolina including poverty, unemployment and underemployment, but it’s clear he also recognizes the vast opportunities rural communities present,” Butterfield said.

More than 50,000 businesses are in the 252 census tracts already, and more than $580 million has been invested from the public and private sectors in these area in the past five years. For more information on the opportunity zones and a map of the areas in Wilson County, visit public.nccommerce.com/oz/.