CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and federal officials were in the state capitol Monday to promote a public-private program meant to spur investment and economic opportunity in struggling regions in West Virginia.
Capito was joined by Scott Turner, executive director of the White House’s Opportunity and Revitalization Council, and Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin on a walking tour of Opportunity Zones in the Charleston central business district.
Last summer, Capito and Gov. Jim Justice announced the U.S. Treasury Department named 55 locations in the state as Opportunity Zones, a federal tax incentive designed to encourage investment in parts of the state facing severe economic downturns.
“It’s private investment into distressed areas,” Capito said. “We want to see investment not just in the community, but economic development at the same time.”
“The opportunity here to bring in the public and private investment is extremely ripe,” Turner said. “I believe that investors, community leaders, economic development, social impact investors have a tremendous opportunity right here in Charleston. This could be revolutionary for the people of this city.”
The Opportunity Zone program was created in 2017 when President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Investors who participate in the program would receive capital gains tax relief.
The White House estimates that Opportunity Zones could spur as much as $100 billion in private investment in communities across the nation.
Goodwin said it was an honor that the White House and members of the Opportunity and Revitalization Council chose to tour Charleston in person.
“It’s one thing to send an email or send a photo, but it’s quite another when someone is taking the time and literally walking neighborhoods with us and looking at some things that we feel are really important to this community,” Goodwin said.
“We’re sharing with the mayor and some of the leaders here the best practices we’ve learned on the listening tour we’ve been on as a council throughout the country,” Turner said. “We have great team leaders … that are here on the ground and can offer education, offer teaching on the competitive grants that are available, and help streamline, target and coordinate.”
According to the White House, the average median income for families living in designated opportunity zones is 37 percent below the state median, and the average poverty rate is 32 percent compared to 17 percent for an average U.S. Census tract.
Capito said it’s important for local leaders to identify specific projects.
“I think what you want to see is — you want to see projects that are ready for investment,” Capito said. “We have to remember this is private investment, and for a private investment there’s expectations of returns on your investment. People have got to get ready, because there’s going to be competition for development dollars.”
Turner cited examples of successful opportunity zones in Louisville, Cleveland and Birmingham, Ala. He concurred with Capito that West Virginia needs to move quickly to secure funding for its opportunity zones.
“There is time, but time is of the essence,” Turner said. “A strategy is very important. A plan is very important, and it will get done. We just have to work together and be creative and understand that this a tool that can literally revolutionize not just a city, but our country. The people who will benefit from this are the under-served, those that are the lease fortunate among us. That is our mission, and that’s our focus.”
An effort to create a similar tax break at the state level to help kick start projects in the opportunity zones, House Bill 113 was one of several bills introduced during the resumption of the special session May 20. The bill could not get the needed two-thirds vote to suspend rules and pass the bill in one day, with 24 Democrats and one Republican voting to kill the bill.