EIG OZ Webinar Series | Investing in Rural and Gateway CommunitiesMay 19, 2021
By Rachel Reilly
On May 5, the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) hosted a webinar to discuss Opportunity Zone (OZ) investment activity occurring in rural and gateway communities. Guest speakers shared lessons learned and current strategies for investing in these markets, and provided examples of how OZ financing has been catalytic in jump starting economic development, revitalizing historic buildings, and supporting local businesses.
At the beginning of the webinar, EIG’s Catherine Lyons provided an overview of recent reports on OZ investment activity including an in-depth analysis through 2019 and investments tracked by Novogradac through April 2021. Lyons also referenced a number of resources developed by EIG, including a recent blog post, to provide additional context on the maturation of the OZ policy and marketplace vis-a-vis investment activity.
Rachel Reilly from Aces & Archers then framed the conversation about OZ activity in rural and gateway communities by highlighting initiatives and investments that EIG has featured in its OZ webinar series, investment profiles, and playbooks. Reilly also noted that a rural OZ playbook is currently being drafted by the Sorenson Impact Center and the Utah Association of Counties.
Alex Flachsbart from Opportunity Alabama (OPAL) provided an overview of the organization’s effort to build capacity and investment pipeline throughout the state. These efforts have led to the recent launch of The OPAL Fund.
- OPAL is a non-profit dedicated to Alabama’s OZs, and has become the economic development engine for these communities through the provision of technical assistance, access to capital, and pipeline development support.
- In order to build capacity and drive investment in rural communities, OPAL facilitates a Rural Recovery Accelerator program.
- OPAL is now using The OPAL Fund to raise additional capital for the state’s OZs, build a new base of local impact investors, and support minority- and women-owned businesses through partnership.
Stephanie Copeland from Four Points Funding (4PF) shared the fund’s strategy for disrupting traditional capital flows in small markets, which includes investing through an angel syndicate and working in partnership with public and private leaders.
- 4PF has a stronghold on investing in rural and gateway OZs in Colorado, and this broad exposure creates investment efficiencies in typically inefficient but high value markets.
- The fund takes a community-centered approach to real estate investment and supports rural business ecosystems through its angel syndicate, West Slope Angels.
- 4PF is uniquely positioned to understand the specific economic development needs of Colorado’s rural and gateway communities, such as workforce housing and outdoor hospitality, and has chosen to focus its investment strategy on capitalizing these assets.
Jill Homan from Javelin 19 provided an overview of two large economic development initiatives being fueled through OZ; a mixed-use development in Pawtucket, RI and the Agricultural Technology Campus in Hampton County, SC.
- A sports facility anchors the largest economic development project in the city of Pawtucket’s history. The $400 million project will create an estimated 3,500 jobs and contribute more than $130 million annually to Rhode Island’s gross domestic product.
- The GEM Opportunity Zone Fund invested $314 million to create a state-of-the-art agricultural technology campus in rural South Carolina to strengthen the nation’s food supply chain, create an estimated 1,500 jobs, and serve as the epicenter of economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture for the southeastern United States.