GAZETTE GUEST COLUMN: Opportunity Zones can help Colorado’s struggling communities
By Michael Fields
Even though our economy is ranked #1 in the nation, too many Coloradans are being left behind. I believe that, as a state, we should be judged not on how the people at the top are doing, but on how much opportunity the least fortunate have access to. It is long past time for our lawmakers and community leaders to focus on how to encourage more economic prosperity in struggling areas. Colorado has too much going for it to leave these communities behind.
The question is, how do we get people to look at economically-distressed communities where there are hard-working skilled people, but little appetite for investment? The Opportunity Zone program encourages long-term investment in low-income, high-poverty areas. It provides tax incentives to boost investment in real estate – and has the potential to drive angel and capital investment into struggling neighborhoods. For Colorado’s 126 federally-designated Opportunity Zones this means crucial investment, access to jobs, and the chance at prosperity.
The concept was first found in a bill co-sponsored by Senator Cory Gardner before it was eventually inserted into last year’s Republican tax reform bill. The U.S. Treasury has estimated the program will bring $100 billion in private capital into low-income regions across the country. The federal government is also steering more resources towards supporting grant funding, crime prevention, and infrastructure improvements in these areas. This means that Colorado’s Opportunity Zones could end up seeing billions of dollars of new investments.
New ideas like this are vital to our future. Colorado is the second most highly educated state in the country, but only 35 percent of us have bachelor’s degrees. That means that almost 2/3 of us are on a different path. It’s clear that to sustain economic success, college can’t be the only path to economic mobility and prosperity. Nationally, we invest 13 times more in financial aid for college students than in public workforce systems that help low-income workers find jobs. We have to rethink how we do things.
Colorado will benefit from this national initiative, but we can do even more. Colorado’s legislators should be looking at similar ideas to pass at the state level – which would compound the effects and bring even more opportunity to underserved areas. But in order for an initiative like this to be truly effective, it’s going to take bipartisan support and collaboration with the communities.
We know what hasn’t worked: government picking winners and losers. Cronyism, like Hollywood handouts and electric car subsidies that only benefit the wealthy. Instead, I encourage the legislators to create policies where the free market can decide what is worthy of investment within economically-distressed neighborhoods. Let’s all encourage our General Assembly to focus on enacting policies that ensure all Coloradans have a pathway to prosperity.