On September 21, the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) hosted a webinar to discuss how state and local governments are considering Opportunity Zones (OZ) as part of broader strategies to deliver COVID-19 and economic relief funding, and how OZ equity is being integrated into the suite of economic development financing tools.

View presentation slides, a recording of the webinar, and EIG’s key takeaways for more information.

Key Takeaways

EIG’s Catherine Lyons kicked off the webinar by sharing media coverage of OZ investments in housing and rural communities. Lyons also shared new resources including recordings of recent OZ webinars and the Rural Opportunity Zone and Recovery Playbook released by the Sorenson Impact Center and the Utah Association of Counties this month. Rachel Reilly from Aces & Archers then provided context for guest speaker presentations, sharing that recent federal funding directed to city, regional, and state governments presents an opportunity for public-sector leaders to strategically structure programs and deploy capital positioned to attract OZ investment. 

Guest speakers discussed considerations for targeting capital to OZs, including eligible uses of federal funds, community needs, and potential alignment with investor needs and behavior in the OZ marketplace.

Sean Washington from Norfolk, Virginia’s Economic Development Authority highlighted priority initiatives in the city’s OZs and shared examples of how federal funding can support workforce development, small businesses, pandemic relief, and neighborhood revitalization in OZs. 

  • Washington emphasized that site readiness is key to attracting private investment, and is thus a city priority. The newly authorized Community Driven Investment Fund engages community representatives in decisions on public investments, and site readiness will be a main funding focus.
  • He shared insights on how OZ equity can blend with other economic development financing strategies, and is increasingly being viewed as one tool in a broader economic development toolbox alongside tax credits and incentives.  

Trelynd Bradley from the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) discussed a multitude of state programs that may be capitalized or recapitalized with federal funding, including those that prioritize or overlap with OZs. 

  • Bradley noted that the state is targeting and/or prioritizing OZs through more than 200 federal grants, loans, or programs, and included examples of funding secured from the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 
  • He also shared the state’s updated OZ portal, which includes a repository of prospectus documents and an online mapping tool that allows communities and investors to view overlays with state investments and place-based tools such as California Climate Investments, SB1 Transportation Funding, Promise Zones, High Speed Rail, and Recycling Market Development Zones.

Frank Dickson from the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) closed the webinar by describing how the state’s early action to maximize OZ designations has resulted in substantial public and private investment in these distressed census tracts. 

  • Dickson shared that OZs have been prioritized across a variety of funding opportunities, including DHCD’s Multifamily Housing & Energy Program, Neighborhood BusinessWorks Program, and other state revitalization programs. 
  • The state has already deployed federal recovery funds to capitalize new programs that prioritize or provide enhanced incentives in OZs, such as Project Restore, which provides Rental Assistance Grants and Business Operations Grants to small businesses. Dickson also shared that the state is hoping to deploy State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) financing to businesses in OZs, pending updated program guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Opportunity Zones 

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