New initiative to encourage growth in Opportunity Zones

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RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new initiative aims to bolster efforts to encourage economic growth in opportunity zones across Virginia.

Governor Ralph Northam announced the initiative this week and said the Commonwealth will also partner with Virginia Community Capital, or VCC, to create an online marketplace that will match investors with communities.

It's part of the federal Opportunity Zones program that was created through the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

According to a release, the VCC will work in partnership with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Housing Development Authority will develop an online marketplace to help education stakeholders in the program, share project ideas, and connect investors to businesses and property in the Opportunity Zones.

There will also be tools and investment resources will be available to help projects with capital stacking and ensuring deal flow.

“The Opportunity Zone program is designed to help steer long-term investment to economically distressed and low-income communities, and my administration is committed to taking full advantage of this important federal tool,” said Northam. “With this online platform, we can open the door to Virginia's Opportunity Zones for investors and business owners and further drive jobs and capital into the areas of our Commonwealth where they are most needed. We are thrilled that this new and exciting partnership will bring together key stakeholders around a shared vision for more inclusive growth and boost our efforts to build a more prosperous future for all Virginians.”

The release says the online marketplace will be a mechanism for Virginia to track projects occurring in Opportunity Zones and assess trends to measure the impact the program has on distressed communities.

The marketplace will also work to ensure the Commonwealth is helping to secure capital to benefit communities, align with their priorities and bring in much-needed capital to distressed areas.

The marketplace will begin building immediately and is expected to launch in the fall.

There are 212 Opportunity Zones across Virginia, and the DHCD is the lead agency coordinating assistance to ensure state housing, community and economic development efforts across those zones.

The new partnership is being funded by a $1 million grant from the VHDA.

DHCD and VCC will provide information to leverage all federal, state and local government programs and incentives along with philanthropic and nonprofit institutions to help secure additional capital needed so that projects can get underway.

The VHDA will also be providing a $50 million credit facility program along with the grant funding to help Opportunity Zone investors acquire property in the zones. This facility will support property acquisition and enable more transactions for the zones.

There are several guiding principles for the Opportunity Zone Marketplace, including encouraging and enabling positive community impact investments, ensuring fair and equitable access to resources, attracting and matching national capital and businesses with easily accessible and current information, empowering local businesses and governments, leveraging government programs and incentives in partnership with philanthropic and nonprofit institutions, commission neutral and independent third parties to manage and facilitate an inclusive marketplace, seeding the effort with one-time funding and becoming a self-sufficient operation over time, and tracking and measuring economic impact within the Opportunity Zone communities.

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