On December 14, the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) hosted a webinar to discuss locally-led Opportunity Zones (OZ) strategies to strengthen Main Street corridors. Guest speakers shared insights on how these efforts were initiated, and shared stories about how OZ financing has been used to revitalize historic properties, support small businesses, and expand opportunity for residents. 

Key Takeaways

Prior to guest speaker presentations, EIG’s Director of Policy and Coalitions, Catherine Lyons, shared recent stories from Maine, Ohio, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania that highlight ways in which the OZ policy is driving economic growth in towns with fewer than 100,000 residents. Rachel Reilly from Aces & Archers then discussed recent OZ transactions in Indiana, Ohio, and Arkansas that have recently come to fruition due to local leadership and locally-generated investment. These efforts will result in new affordable housing, renovated properties, much-needed retail and restaurant space, as well as investments in small businesses for these communities. 

Paul Guderson, Economic Development Director for the City of Harvey, North Dakota, discussed how the OZ policy has supported a small business boom in a town of 1,700 residents. 

In 2018, an international railway company decommissioned its terminal in Harvey, eliminating dozens of jobs. At that time, local leaders embraced the town’s recent OZ designation as a way to generate economic growth and create new jobs. 

Economic development officials assembled a portfolio of OZ investment opportunities, and worked with residents to establish local Opportunity Funds. An uptick in the transfer of agricultural assets has created a pool of hometown investors who have been motivated by the OZ tax benefits to invest in Harvey. 

Over the past three years, more than 30 new businesses have opened in Harvey and many of the town’s Main Street buildings have been rehabilitated. This small town renaissance has been supported by OZ investments, and now community leaders are positioned to attract new investment, residents, and economic opportunities. 

Jennifer Wilz of Third Place LLC provided insights on how the town of Brookville, Indiana is leveraging its OZ designation to activate local investors to reinvigorate the town’s Main Street corridor, expand economic opportunities tied to tourism, and strengthen the hometown newspaper. 

Community leaders in Brookville are leveraging OZ investments to address some of the town’s most pressing issues, including a declining population, untapped tourism potential, aging housing stock, and a blighted downtown lined with historic buildings. 

Wilz led the town’s first investment into Valley House Flats, which created much-needed housing and updated storefronts. She then made an investment to recapitalize and modernize Brookville’s local news outlet, and aligned others in Brookville to invest in a new small-scale hotel to help grow the local economy through  tourism opportunities.  

Brookville’s OZ strategy is anchored in using local investment alongside other sources of public funding. In addition to increased activity along the town’s Main Street,  Brookville’s locally-led OZ efforts have led to increased civic engagement and collaboration. 

Resources Discussed

Visit EIG’s OZ Resources webpage for additional information including deal profiles, mapped activity, and recordings of previous webinars. 

Opportunity Zones 

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