Activities associated with the Opportunity Zones legislation has amplified funding interest by investors who are attracted to the tax benefits associated with the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act legislation. While the census tracts approved to be part of the OZ program are distributed in places across the U.S., the lion’s share of investments are flowing to Opportunity Zones embedded in larger populated cities – places with the potential to generate a higher return on investment. Despite the fact that rural areas continue to lag behind urban areas, be it from the Great Recession or from the economic downturn associated with the COVID pandemic, these rural sites are too often dismissed as places to target for Qualified Opportunity Fund investment activities.
Indiana has 156 designated Opportunity Zones which includes 46 zones located in rural areas. The state wanted to ensure that these rural sites were equally positioned to showcase the benefits that would appeal to investors who are interested in contributing to the well-being of rural places in the state. One of the visible products of that commitment was the establishment of the Indiana Rural Opportunity Zones Initiative (ROZI). Formed by representatives of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the Purdue University Center for Regional Development, the state ROZI team gained quick traction by securing a Rural Business Development Grant from USDA Rural Development. With this grant in hand, the team was able to select six rural Opportunity Zone sites to be part of the pilot effort.
The process the state ROZI state team designed and delivered (on face-to-face basis or virtually) in the six sites is detailed in a recent blog published by the Purdue Center for Regional Development. Readers can access the blog at: https://pcrd.purdue.edu/opportunity-zones-building-a-brighter-future-for-rural-indiana/. Suffice it to say that the intent was to strengthen the capacity of a local ROZI Task Force team to weigh various options, to engage local residents in these deliberations, and to produce a plan that would bring positive changes to the businesses and residents that make-up the fabric of these census tracts.
At present, each rural Opportunity Zone site is producing a high quality, locally-driven Investment Prospectus that highlights key projects that investors are being invited to fund. As an example, see the Investment Prospectus released by the Town of Kentland, IN as a result of its partnership with the state ROZI team at https://kentland.in.gov/opportunities/ https://kentland.in.gov/opportunities/.
As further great news, the USDA Rural Development has funded a second phase of the ROZI, allowing the state team to select six more rural Indiana sites to be part of this initiative in the coming year. If you are interested in learning more about Indiana’s ROZI effort, please contact Matt Crouch at mcrouch@ocra.IN.gov or Dr. Bo Beaulieu at firstname.lastname@example.org.