The Opportunity Zones incentive is a new community investment tool established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term investments in low-income urban and rural communities nationwide. Opportunity Zones provide a tax incentive for investors to re-invest their unrealized capital gains into dedicated Opportunity Funds.

Opportunity Zones were conceived as an innovative approach to spurring long-term private sector investments in low-income communities nationwide. 

The concept was originally introduced in a 2015 paper, “Unlocking Private Capital to Facilitate Economic Growth in Distressed Areas,” to help address the persistent poverty and uneven recovery that left too many American communities behind. The idea has since been championed by a wide-ranging coalition of investors, entrepreneurs, community developers, economists, and other stakeholders.

How Can Rural Areas Make the Best Use of Opportunity Zones?

Land use planning is an essential next step for the communities.  Embarking on a process by which optimum forms of land use and management are identified by community stakeholders, considering the biophysical, technological, social, economic and political conditions of the opportunity zones is a critical first step. Utilizing this economic incentive for rural and urban communities alike require careful consideration of alternative economic development strategies dependent upon environmental conditions of the properties.  A carefully developed land use plan presents a vision for the future and promotes economic development. The plan contains valuable information that drives the location decisions of prospective firms and allows communities to plan development in a way that protects valued resources. 

Studied Area

Two specific rural opportunity zones in Canton, IL and Havana, IL will be the primary focus of this study. Additional background on rural opportunity zones in the Midwest will be sought out to document potential uses and also to develop a great understanding among community stakeholders on how best to utilize opportunity zones as an economic development tool in their communities.

“Opportunity Zones” (OZs) might have caught the public’s attention by the news about the scandals during zone selection or socially irresponsible projects serving only investors’ interests. Many who are interested might give up after a glance at the complex rules and no longer believe the program would work for them. This project makes the case that as long as the community takes the program seriously and pushes out priorities, there is a way to materialize their goals while fulfilling the original intent of the program. The final product of this project is an ArcGIS Story Map at https://arcg.is/aL94y1. It documents the assets and needs of Canton and Havana, IL, two rural communities with OZs, and the investment ranges, stages, economic and social impacts of their priority projects. A timeline of the project and key informants are also reported at the end of the webpage.

Advisory Team

  • Kathie Brown, University of Illinois Extension Extension Educator, Community and Economic Development (retired)
  • William R. Blessman, Administrator of Mason County (retired)
  • Brenda Stadsholt, Mayor of Havana
  • Brenda Davenport-Fornoff, Economic Development Coordinator, City of Havana
  • Cole A. McDaniel, Spoon River Partnership for Economic Development, Executive Director
  • Curt Oldfield, President of Spoon River College
  • Casey Peterson, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, Director of Rural Outreach and Development
  • Christopher Setti, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council. Chief Executive Officer
  • Professor Arnab Chakraborty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Additional Resources

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathie Brown, University of Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development educator {retired June 2021} As a community and economic development educator, Kathie Brown works with community leaders, government officials, volunteer groups, small business owners, and others to help communities become stronger and more economically viable. She focuses on leadership and organizational development; local government education and relations; economic development strategies; participatory community planning/visioning processes; group process facilitation; collaboration and partnership building; public issue education; and understanding, using, and developing data.

Brown works with organizations and local governments to help them: (1) analyze and understand their needs, (2) identify alternative courses of action, (3) make informed decisions, (4) plan for the future, and (5) evaluate their development efforts.

Kathie has worked for Extension for almost 40 years, contributing to programs related to community health, digital literacy, STEAM education, and more.

This position focuses on the core skill areas of strategic planning, community leadership skills, data for decision making, needs assessment, and collaboration. Programmatic areas are leadership development, education for economic development, public policy education, and data/information and referral services.

ABOUT THE BLOG: Building Entrepreneurial Communities: Strategies for strengthening local economies.