The new geography of opportunity

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The Trump administration recently announced a major push forward on one of the signature features of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The president’s executive order creating the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council looks like an exciting new feature of the Donald Trump’s agenda to “make America great again.”

Chaired by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, and supported by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the council will spearhead initiatives to develop opportunity zones in more than 8,000 designated areas in all states and U.S. territories. Opportunity zones represent a promise of increased jobs, investment  and growth to the communities that need it the most.

{mosads}Although wages are rising, the nation’s unemployment rate is at a 49-year low, and unemployment among African-Americans sits at the second-lowest rate of 6.3 percent — impressive achievements — there are still communities in our country that have seen little or no new investment in generations. Any distressed area that is designated as an opportunity zone will receive a significant set of incentives to drive private sector investment, including zero capital gains tax on any investment in the zone that is held for at least 10 years. By offering incentives that encourage investors to think in terms of decades instead of days, the opportunity zone model differs significantly from previous programs. It ensures that investments made in the current environment are sustainable and robust.

The council’s long-term approach, as expressed by Secretary Carson, “means that new growth becomes consistent growth and new jobs become steady jobs.” The result is an innovative market and place-based approach that benefits both investors and distressed communities. By incentivizing underserved communities, Carson explains, “Opportunity zones create promise out of risk and those investments, in turn, create communities that are vibrant and safe, with a sense of ownership and contribution to the wellbeing of our society.”

At the signing of the order in the Oval Office, Baltimore pastor Donte Hickman announced the initiation of a model project to demonstrate the potential of opportunity zones. Hickman, who serves as pastor of Southern Baptist Church, announced that the church’s affiliated Center Community Development Corporation, in conjunction with other local stakeholders, had developed an East Baltimore Revitalization Plan to address the development of a 100-acre parcel  near Johns Hopkins Hospital. Hickman assured potential investors and government agencies,  “We have the plan, we have the property, we have the people, we have the professional expertise and we have the prospectus to jumpstart your urban initiative.”

Projects such as the Baltimore demonstration project and others around the country represent sprouting seeds of prosperity amidst one-time deserts of desolation and decay. Opportunity zones enable businesses and residents to grow their own wheat, rather than giving them bread.

The opportunity zone legislation is set to unleash more than $100 billion in investor funds, and potentially a lot more in terms of follow-on investments. It follows the president’s proposed prison reform legislation, the FIRST STEP Act, which would give former inmates and nonviolent offenders the chance to become productive, contributing, law-abiding citizens. The genius is that the opportunity zone program could release felons into communities on the rise, giving them opportunities.  

Both the executive order and legislation have attracted widespread bipartisan support and participation, led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a key mover of both programs. These initiatives also come at a critical point in Trump’s presidency, as the Democrats prepare to take power in the House in January. While some pundits have pointed to the political risk the president faces from a Congress that seems hell-bent on impeachment, the Democrats may decide that working with the president on initiatives such as these outweigh the political benefits of his potential removal.

The president’s willingness to break ground on bold initiatives to align the political and economic divisions of the country should not go without notice. By uniting Wall Street with the needs of mainstream Americans, the president is forging the social cohesion America needs in order to restore its promise.

What President Trump has proposed is a fundamental shift in the landscape. No longer would jobs be concentrated merely in a few large city centers — cities swollen by decades of out-migration from underinvested communities. Instead, by creating incentives for local investment, the president is working to bring jobs to the people. In doing so, he may be creating a new geography of opportunity and growth.  

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. The author of “Reawakening Virtues,”he served as an adviser and spokesman for Dr. Ben Carson’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Tags african-american unemployment Ben Carson Donald Trump FIRST STEP Act opportunity zones Tax reform Tim Scott US economy Wilbur Ross

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