So you want to invest in an Opportunity Zone but you don’t know where they are? Are you worried about the reporting headache? As a partner for real estate investors across the US, we are frequently asked about the best way to manage Opportunity Zone investments, so we produced this guide to answer your questions.
What is an Opportunity Zone?
The Opportunity Zone incentive was enacted by Congress in 2017 as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to boost private investment in economically distressed areas, offering preferential tax treatment to investors who develop in those regions. Based on several previous federal programs, it has since been expanded to all 50 states as well as US territories. Together, the zones cover the area where more than 30 million Americans live.
Investors who want the tax breaks need to put their money in a Qualified Opportunity Fund that holds at least 90% of its assets in that area – for up to 10 years to get the maximum benefit. The Opportunity Zones legislation has been heralded as a way to incentivize long-term investment in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods, create jobs, and revitalize communities.
Opportunity Zone Tax Benefits a Boon for Investors
The primary benefit of Opportunity Zone investment is partial or total defrayment of capital gains tax. If an investor sells an asset and generates a capital gain, they can sink that gain into an Opportunity Zone fund to delay and reduce their tax on that gain – up to 100 percent if the investment is left in the zone for ten years. Here’s how it works.
It’s a huge payoff for investors and has already raised $4.46 billion, according to tax consultancy Novogradac, which has been tracking 366 Qualified Opportunity Funds. Of the capital reported to the firm, 74 percent was raised by funds with at least some focus on residential development, and 12.3 percent raised by funds who only do residential. Over 69 percent have a partial commercial development focus and 22.8 percent invest at least partially in hospitality.
“Investor interest in opportunity zones has steadily increased since the legislation passed at the end of 2017 and it’s no surprise that interest is intensifying now,” CPA and Managing Partner Michael Novogradac said.
Opportunity Zone investments are often stacked with other incentives, like the New Market Tax Credits, which has some overlap in geography and government intent.
State by State – Opportunity Zones Map
Some 12 percent of the US is designated Opportunity Zone, though because zones are matched to economically depressed areas, it is no surprise that thriving big cities are not on the map. Instead, Opportunity Zones tend to be clustered in counties with declining or without major industry, where the housing stock is old, and where the median income is lower than the majority of the country, though states used a variety of rules to nominate their Opportunity Zones, so the parameters differ. State by state, these are the areas covered.
The Economic Innovation Group has an interactive map to find Opportunity Zones across the US:
There are swatches of Opportunity Zone in nearly every county, including parts of the state’s capital, Montgomery, and its biggest city, Birmingham. A nonprofit organization, Opportunity Alabama, is leading the charge through information sharing and drawing together prospective investors, strategic planners, and community members to encourage socially sustainable investment.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Director of Civic Innovation Anthony C Head said the 26 tracts in Birmingham were “at the forefront of our thinking” for Opportunity Zone best practices. “We have a lot of really good partnerships. So we’re trying to learn from all the people from around the country but also lift up some of the best practices of what we’re doing here,” he said.
Though the population is tiny, Alaska has significant additional tax incentives that could make for lucrative development that is not reliant on people-power. There’s no state tax on personal income, state sales tax, and property taxes are minuscule. Plus there are tax breaks for certain industries including oil, fisheries, mining, and Alaska Native Corporations.
Opportunity Zones in Alaska include the capital, Anchorage, the picturesque Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and the central city of Fairbanks, a transit and tourism hub.
Opportunity Zones cover huge swaths of the state of Arizona, including areas of Flagstaff and Lake Havasu City.
An entire quarter of the city of Jonesboro is listed as an Arkansas Opportunity Zone, along with parts of Little Rock, Fayetteville, and many communities outside of major cities.
There are 870 Opportunity Zones in the state of California alone. Despite housing some of the richest real estate in the country, there are pockets of disadvantage in the state that are ripe for redevelopment. Unlike some other states, there is more population to support projects – both in terms of development and long-term viability.
Some 3 million people live in Opportunity Zones in California. Zones include much of the Central Valley, parts of the Sierras, and counties along the Nevada and Oregon borders.
The State of California has created an interactive map that shows its Opportunity Zones along with cities, high-speed rail stations, and zones covered by state projects like the California Climate Investment program.
In Colorado, the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade created an Opportunity Zone program to attract capital investment and target it to benefit poor communities. It has a designated program director and a tracking program. Much of the outer ring of the state is a designated Opportunity Zone.
There are 72 urban and suburban areas marked as Opportunity Zones in Connecticut, and the state is particularly interested in real estate projects, business investments, and energy-related projects.
Connecticut-based Enhanced Capital Co-Managing Partner Liddy Karter said the program had opened up local investment to new types of projects, taking what was traditionally a competitive industry and encouraging developers to be more collaborative, pooling their projects for a greater impact.
“We are looking for great investments that are also great for the communities in which they will be investing,” she said.
Delaware has 25 Opportunity Zones, and 11 of them overlap with Downtown Development Districts. There’s no sales tax in the state, and it has held its AAA Bond Rating for 17 years. The state has branded itself the state for young professionals.
District of Columbia
Washington DC took a strategic approach to choose its Opportunity Zones, layering disadvantage zones with unemployment, commercial land, the district’s development priorities, plus areas covered by complementary investor opportunities including the Supermarket Tax Credit and the Great Streets grant program. It narrowed the candidate tracts by looking for actionable investment opportunities that would bring amenities and jobs, and would be most likely to spur projects that benefitted existing residents. Public support was also part of the math.
There are 427 Opportunity Zones throughout the state of Florida and 12 of them are within Orlando city limits. Some or Orlando’s projects are inspiring others across the country, including the SoDo District project that comprises retail, walkable civic spaces, streetscape improvements, and business facade enhancements. The nonprofit Florida Housing Coalition offers support and guidance to investors who want to fund community housing projects in the state.
Investors who start businesses in a Georgia Opportunity Zone can receive not just the capital gains tax deferment but a Georgia State tax credit for job creation. The state allows a business of any nature to qualify and the tax credits can be used to reduce both state income and withholding taxes. There are 260 zones in 83 counties across Georgia.
Despite having 25 Opportunity Zones, including some in Honolulu downtown and Kona, investors have been slow to commit to Hawaii. Mark Ritchie, Branch Chief for Business Support Services at the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, told ThinkTech Hawaii that the state was looking for investors, especially in technology and manufacturing, to help diversify the state’s economy and create higher wage jobs.
Idaho is among the states stacking incentives to the Opportunity Zone program. If you invest in an Opportunity Zone in Idaho, you can also take advantage of the Idaho Tax Reimbursement Incentive, credits and rebates for job creation, property tax exemptions, equipment depreciation tax credits, and cash reimbursements for training staff.
Facing its sixth year of population decline, the Prairie State is eager to lure investment, new business, and jobs to its 327 Opportunity Zones. Governor Bruce Rauner said as the epicenter of commerce in the midwest, Illinois was uniquely positioned to create jobs and new enterprises. “These zones include some of the most underserved areas of the state that have the greatest potential for improvement. They represent a broad cross-section of Illinois that includes rural, urban and suburban in-need communities that are ripe for investment and job creation,” he said. Some of the Opportunity Zones are in the City of Chicago.
Instead of making recommendations based on income alone, as other states have done, Indiana used a community process to determine its zone recommendations, including consideration to areas investors would be most interested in. An external advisory group including members from nonprofits and mayors from around the state determined the list of 156 Opportunity Zones.
One of Iowa’s Opportunity Zones is being heralded as the perfect model for a successful project. Developer Steve Boote is turning what was a Mason City-owned downtown parking lot into a $15 million apartment and townhome complex. Boote, the owner of a local development firm and construction company, said he was eyeing two or three other zone projects. “Iowa has some really nicely placed zones and investors close enough to make small deals like this impactful,” he told the Iowa Economic Development Authority. “My businesses are family-owned, and we enjoy working with other families in communities like the one I grew up in. It’s very fortuitous.”
Iowa has 62 Opportunity Zones, including 9 in Des Moines.
The State of Kansas is incentivizing rural Opportunity Zone investment by offering new full-time residents additional incentives, including student loan repayment and income tax waivers. There are 74 Opportunity Zones in Kansas.
Several projects are seeking investment in Kentucky, including a hemp-drying plant.
To make it easier for investors to find projects, the State of Louisiana created a searchable portal of 52 current Opportunity Zone projects. They include business and mixed use developments, a commercial restaurant for lease, and even a data science startup.
The Opportunity Zone framework is rapidly rejuvenating the five-block downtown area of Augusta, Maine. In a multi-party development, several commercial, residential, and historic redevelopment projects are underway thanks to investors who are taking advantage of the Opportunity Zone initiative.
Of the 149 Opportunity Zones in Maryland, 42 are in Baltimore. Governor Larry Hogan created a taskforce for encouraging investment and plans to create other incentives including job training, to make the state top of investor’s wishlists.
“Providing federal capital gains tax incentives is a great start, but it may not be enough to ensure the revitalization of many of these neighborhoods and communities,” he told Technically Baltimore. “So we plan to do everything in our power to utilize new and existing state and federal programs, grants and funding sources, and to have all of our state agencies work together with our county and municipal governments and the private sector to supercharge our Opportunity Zone revitalization. Our plan is to make Maryland’s 149 Opportunity Zones the most competitive in America.”
There are 138 Opportunity Zones in Massachusetts, including part of Boston as well as six tracts in picturesque Cape Cod. Uptake from investors has so far been slow, despite a healthy real estate market, at least in Boston.
A big city ripe for renewal, Detroit is home to several well-known projects that are in-part funded by Opportunity Zone projects. The landmark projects include a $37.5 million mixed-use development called The Corner, a $108 million 374-apartment development in Lafayette West, and a $16 million office and food court redevelopment called Chroma. Michigan has 288 Opportunity Zones, representing about 3 million residents.
Investment firm Minnesota Opportunity Zone Advisors has matched census data with Opportunity Zones to create a picture of social mobility to support investors who are interested in the state. There are 128 zones and the MN Opportunity Collaborative keeps a searchable database of active projects.
The Mayor of the town of Vicksburg has credited Opportunity Zone investment for saving a sawmill and 100 jobs in his town. The mill was due to close early in 2019 but was sold to a new investor as an Opportunity Zone project. Mayor George Flaggs told the local TV station that the program was the “best economic tool to create vitality and, more importantly, to create more jobs and to save jobs.”
There are 100 Opportunity Zones in Mississippi.
There are 161 Opportunity Zones dotted throughout the state, including parts of St Louis and Kansas City. St Louis was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Awards Grant in September 2019, to establish a program officer whose role it will be to manage community input to the investment process in that city.
The Opportunity Fund incentive has the capacity to benefit not just wealthy corporate investors but also average Montana property owners, according to a land-use and design firm based in Missoula.
WGM Group President and CEO Brent Campbell said he was hopeful the scheme would be a major driver of investment and economic development in the state.
“If somebody sells a ranch in eastern Montana, and they’re going to have a big capital gain, they could invest that money in an Opportunity Zone and build apartments,” he told the Missoulian. “That way, they defer the capital gains from the sale of the ranch for everything they put into the apartments.”
Montana has 25 Opportunity Zones.
The Economic Innovation Group estimates there are 10,000 businesses in Nebraska’s 44 Opportunity Zones that have a combined workforce of 203,000. More than half of Nebraska’s Opportunity Zones are in metropolitan areas, including Omaha and Lincoln.
Of the 61 Opportunity Zones in Nevada, fully one third are in Las Vegas. Development in the famed neon capital was spurred by the Opportunity Zones initiative, including a $29.4 million, 290-unit complex that would not have gone ahead if not for the incentive, according to the investment firm.
After a slow start, some projects are getting off the ground in New Hampshire’s Opportunity Zones. In Berlin, a town of just 10,000 with a 28.5% poverty rate, a local farmer is raising $25 million to build a 20-acre greenhouse to grow greens through the winter.
Eager to make the most of the Opportunity Zone initiative, New Jersey created a number of new tax mitigation programs so investors can stack their incentives. New Jersey Aspire and New Jersey Forward together comprise a raft of tax benefits, and the state offers other incentives specific to its equity goals – like bonuses for projects that bring a supermarket to a food desert or health care to an underserved neighborhood.
There is an Opportunity Zone in every New Jersey county.
Like many states, New Mexico is leaning on business communities within Opportunity Zones to make their regions more attractive to investors. The state’s Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia J Keyes said part of the government’s role was to educate business leaders in the state’s 63 tracts to “create an ecosystem that is open and ready for investment.” It has compiled resources for investors.
Half of New York state’s Opportunity Zones are in the five boroughs of New York, in areas including Red Hook, Bushwick, Long Island City, southeastern Jamaica, the Rockaways, and Staten Island. Bronx-based entrepreneur Zale Tabakman is seeking investors for his vertical farm company Local Grown Salads, which operates self-contained vertical farming units. “Opportunity Zones were invented for me,” Tabakman told City Limits. “I can create jobs. I’m doing clean work. I can create food in food deserts.”
There are 252 Opportunity Zones in North Carolina, including some in Durham and the Research Triangle area. Senior manager of regional community development for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Jeanne Milliken Bonds said investment banks were looking for a good fit between investors and the Opportunity Zone projects.
“Ideally, what we would hope a community would see, is private investment that comes in, and helps to support their priorities,” she told the local TV station. “Whether it’s affordable housing, or businesses, or other investments, but that you could directly see the impact for that community in the form of jobs that pay livable wages, as well as properties that are affordable for the people in that area.”
Local governments, community groups, nonprofits, and economic development organizations all had a say in the selection of Ohio’s 320 Opportunity Zones, which cover 54,000 businesses and 956,000 residents – including parts of Columbus. Ohio also has added state tax benefits for investors.
The rehabilitation of the historic The Marketplace at Strawberry Fields, a hemp drying and CBD oil extraction plant, and the development of a $22 million sports complex are among the projects seeking funding in Oklahoma’s Opportunity Zones.
Portland, Oregon’s hipster capital, has been dubbed “tax breaklandia” because most of its downtown is a designated Opportunity Zone. In fact, with more than 40 percent of its commercial real estate investment within a zone, Portland is more than 10 percentage points higher than its nearest rival. Oregon has 86 Opportunity Zones.
As well as plotting disadvantage, the state of Pennsylvania used two other criteria for determining which tracts it would recommend for Opportunity Zones: Business activity and geographic diversity. For business activity, the state considered whether there was an “anchor” industry like an airport, hospital, or large employer, the likelihood of private sector-driven affordable housing being developed, and whether future development would build on public infrastructure investments.
Of the 25 Opportunity Zones in Rhode Island, 15 are in the Providence-Pawtucket activity corridor. The state has produced an on-demand webinar covering opportunities for investors.
There are 135 Opportunity Zones in South Carolina, including 8 in Columbia. The city is actively courting investors for six Opportunity Zone projects, including a massive 181-acre 20-year mixed use development called the BullStreet District, which includes a baseball field, offices, industry, a church, and a senior living center.
There are 25 Opportunity Zones in South Dakota, including 9 in Sioux Falls, 7 in Rapid City, and 6 in Aberdeen. Together, they comprise 100,000 residents and about 90,000 jobs.
Projects looking for funding in Tennessee Opportunity Zones include urban commercial redevelopments, a $28 million real estate project in Shelby, an $8.8 million resort in Unicoi, and a $1 million recreation and analytics business for sale.
In Texas, many Opportunity Zone investment managers are hoping investors will be interested in supporting projects in the 377 of its 628 zones that are in rural areas. There is a successful precedent in the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program that generated $11.6 billion in rural projects nationally from 2003 to 2014 and sparked mixed-use developments, science accelerators, schools, and healthcare centers in the lone star state.
There are 46 Opportunity Zones in the state of Utah, including 8 in Salt Lake City and 4 in Provo. After consulting with local stakeholders, the state prioritized rural communities with attractive investment opportunities.
Rural Vermont wants a piece of the development pie for its 25 Opportunity Zones.
Heather Carrington, community and economic development officer for the town of Winooski, population: 7,000.
“We’re excited about it. The way that we really think it could benefit Winooski is an infusion of long-term investment into a low-income community like this,” she told the Vermont Digger. “That helps us to expand the resources we have available for public services and infrastructure. And those can be a huge benefit to a community like Winooski. We’re a resource-restricted community. So whether that looks like more money for playground facilities, police officers, library books, you know, sidewalk plows, it could be any of those things could improve the quality of life here.”
Among the projects seeking investment in Virginia are a 114-acre, 423-unit development near downtown Kilmarnock, an artificial sweetener company in Danville, and a rehabilitation project for the vacant Petersburg Hotel. Parts of Charlottesville and Richmond are covered in Virginia’s 212 Opportunity Zones.
Special consideration was given to tracts where Native American people lived as part of Washington state’s selection of its 139 Opportunity Zones. With an emphasis on partnerships, the state has highlighted a number of opportunities including fiber optic infrastructure, a new downtown center, and a mixed-used building to house nonprofits, apartments, educational organization, and a community space. Microsoft has begun a $475 million Opportunity Fund housing development in King County.
The state of West Virginia seeks investors in its top industries, which are: Aerospace and defence, agriculture, automotive, building products, chemical and polymer production, energy, and fulfillment and distribution. It has 55 Opportunity Zones.
Large-scale industrial developments, numerous retail outlets in Milwaukee, and a set of industrial storage tanks are among the Opportunity Zone projects seeking investment in Wisconsin. More than 70 percent of Wisconsin’s 120 Opportunity Zones are in urban areas.
Big sky country has one of the best tax deals in the nation, including no personal or corporate income tax, low sales and property taxes, and a large sovereign wealth fund. If you’ve ever wanted to run a highway bar in a town of 3,400, perhaps this is your investment.
Some states have Opportunity Zone hotspots, where investment is already high or where you can stack multiple incentives for maximum gain.
How to Evaluate Opportunity Zones Investment
As with any investment, it’s important to do your homework. In addition to considering how much the investment is likely to pay off and how the Opportunity Zone incentives can offset your capital gains tax burden, you should consider other state and county tax benefits when considering a project.
To get the maximum Opportunity Zone benefit, you need to lock up 90 percent of your assets in the fund for 10 years, which means you probably want to have some tie to the region – or at least can stand to spend time there.
The lock-in periods and requirements for investments are among the most frequently asked questions about Opportunity Zones.
If you’re planning to develop or redevelop, make sure you know how the county you’re in is implementing its Opportunity Zone incentives – restrictions vary from state to state and region to region. And check the Federal Government’s advice and clarification released at the end of December 2019, which clears up a lot of questions about Opportunity Zone regulations.
The Opportunity Zone initiative has come under fire for being too lax but done in concert with communities, it can be a win-win policy that can revitalize our communities while helping investors make smart economic decisions.