'O' Zones | Urban Living
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'O' Zones

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During my first two years of high school in Arizona, I took a yellow bus from Sedona to Jerome and back again—that is, unless I had band practice (yup, band geek) or a game. We stopped at every ranch road between the two towns, and it took a mighty long time to get up that mountain where the old mine, ghost town and high school were located.

It was a drive full of "opportunity curves" on the s-turns—you know, when you sat next to someone you had a crush on, and when the bus turned and tilted, you would slide in that person's direction, so you were really, really physically close for a minute. It worked for one young boy who had a crush on me; he stole some Prince Matchabelli cologne and gave it to me in exchange for a kiss.

Those sliding bus moments are completely different than "opportunity zones" that are now in the spotlight in national politics. One side claims they invented them, while the other side is taking credit. What is the truth? O zones were created in a bipartisan effort by Congress in 2017 as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It moves money into areas in the country designated by census tracts where poverty rates are at least 20% and the median family income of the area is no greater than 80% of the area median. That money is supposed to help small businesses and fund real estate developments for affordable housing. If fully funded, more than $6 trillion dollars could trickle down to communities across the country.

There are 46 zones designated in Utah, with seven in the Salt Lake area: Magna, Glendale, Fairpark, Poplar Grove, Granary/downtown and Depot/downtown.

Business incentives for the zones include RDA loans for building renovations, new construction and low-interest economic development loans to businesses. Salt Lake City is the only city in Utah with a Foreign Trade Zone where the proposed Inland Port is to be located to eliminate custom duties (taxes) on products stored there and a Green Recycle Market Development Zone to encourage recycling businesses to locate in the capital city. Through the Industrial Assistance Fund, there's funding to create jobs that pay higher than the median county wages, for employees retention, to bring film production to the state and to give tax exemption for manufacturing start-ups.

Basically, lots of money is available if you know how to find it. The feds, state and cities are all on the bus, ready to lean your way if you reach for the opportunity curve that may help your business succeed. There are approximately 8,700 O zones across the country, and critics call it "welfare for the wealthy," because only the wealthy can afford to build housing, create manufacturing or need tax breaks. You'll be hearing more about it during this campaign season.

Read more about it here: slc.gov/ed/businessresources/financing