MORROW — Politicians, investors and small business owners met at Clayton State University June 19 to discuss plans for revitalizing “opportunity zones“ in Clayton County.
White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council Executive Director Scott Turner, who says he’s been to a dozen cities in the past nine weeks and has seen “some of the worst housing projects in America,” spoke exclusively to the Clayton News about how the county is uniquely poised to benefit.
“Every project is different. In some, the focus is affordable housing. In some, it’s workforce development or workforce housing,” Turner said. “In some areas, it’s operating businesses or substantially improving existing businesses. In some cities, it’s a real estate play in the sense of it’s mixed-use development, like the West End Mall and places like that.”
In the country’s 8,700 Opportunity Zones, household median incomes are 37% lower than the national median income. That’s what drives funding incentives that require businesses to hire people who live in those Opportunity Zones.
For big investors, that means not having to pay capital gains taxes right away, which allows them to reinvest those dollars elsewhere. If they stay invested for seven years, they get a 15% break on that tax. If they stay invested for 10 years, they don’t have to pay any capital gains tax at all.
Development Authority Chair Eldrin Bell told the crowd, “We’re going to be doing this about every three months, y’all, or as often as we can,” adding, “This is a first. Possibly the first in the nation.” He thanked CSU President Dr. Thomas Hynes Jr. for letting DACC hold its meetings on campus.
Among those present were SBA Region IV Administrator Ashley D. Bell, Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Denise Cleveland-Leggett, Commission Chair Jeff Turner, District One School Board member Jasmine Bowles, DACC member Regina Deloach, Senior Research Analyst for Georgia Power Marion O. Phillips and Senior Director for Faegre Baker Daniels Bo Kemp.
Kemp, whose presentation covered the legal aspects of opportunity funds from the standpoint of private investors, touched on “stacking,” which refers to the multiple layers of funding opportunities present in Clayton County’s situation.
For example, the county already has mapped out areas like Mountain View and Old Dixie/Tara Boulevard for various tax and redevelopment incentives. Imagine the various programs, like county Tax Allocation Districts and federal Opportunity Zones, on their own maps. Now stack all those maps up and see where they overlap. That’s a lot of opportunity.
Clayton County’s innovation in making Opportunity Zones work is to offer seed money to help qualified small businesses apply for SBA funding. There also are incentives for hiring 35 percent of a company’s employees from within the zone. Certain so-called “sin“ businesses like alcohol, adult entertainment and golf, are expressly forbidden from receiving Opportunity Zone funding.
Participants toured 32 properties in need of revitalization, including locations on Tara Boulevard, Old Dixie Road, Arrowhead Boulevard, Morrow Road, Frontage Road, Courtney Drive, Jonesboro Road, Old Conley Road and Thurman Road.
Following the tour and a lunchtime address by Tommy Lester, vice president of business development for Citizens Trust Bank, participants heard these presentations:
♦ Government Agency Lessons featured Opportunity Zones Manager Dr. Ed Smith of Invest Atlanta and was moderated by HUD Georgia Field Office Director Michael German;
♦ Education and the Opportunity Zone, a video presentation by Clayton County Public Schools;
♦ Brownfield Activity Update featuring the Environmental Protection Association’s Director of Land, Chemicals and Redevelopment Division Carol Monell and moderated by DACC Executive Director Khalfani Stephens;
♦ Exporting in the Opportunity Zones featuring Hartsfield-Jackson Airport Director of Air Service Development Elliott Paige and moderated by SBA Office of International Trade Associate Administrator David Glaccum.
Local communities are tailoring the program to meet existing needs on the ground, and Scott Turner said Clayton County’s program is particularly innovative.
“That’s one of the beauties of the program, is the flexibility in it,” he said, “in that it gives investors, entrepreneurs, community leaders the ability to be creative inside of the tool, inside of the Opportunity Zone and with the tax incentive and public investment.... It’s not the government saying, ‘You have to do it this way.’ No, in America it’s been small business, it’s been private people that have created and that have innovated.”
The day ended with a networking session for firms and investors.