Gov. Eric Holcomb nominated 156 “Opportunity Zones” to receive federal funding to attract investment into the areas.
The program was created in 2017 by the GOP tax bill passed late last year to provide federal support to help low-income urban and rural communities attract private investment. These zones will remain in place for ten years to try to create long-term investments that help low-income and rural communities.
However, there is a contiguous string of counties that runs more than two-thirds of the length of the western portion of the state has no such designations. Kristin Clary, president of the group Accelerate West Central Indiana, works with a few of those counties. One thing she’s seen is the challenges in attracting millennials to her seven-county area.
“One of the focuses that we have is to try to encourage some of the younger generations to move to our area of the state,” says Clary.
And some of that effort is retaining people, especially those graduating from local colleges.
“We have an excellent higher educational base in our seven county region and so we just want to capture that and hopefully slow down, stop or completely eliminate the brain drain,” says Clary.
She hopes the opportunity zones could address the lack of growth in her area.
“I think that we just look at it as one more tool that helps us to attract industrial and commercial business,” says Clary.
Some counties including Owen County were ineligible to apply having not met the low-income requirement from the census tract. Other places, such as Parke County, applied but did not receive a nomination.
She believes using a regional approach should mitigate the effect on such counties.
“We are really trying to promote the [Interstate]-70 corridor and that comprises of Vigo, Clay and Putnam in our community,” says Clary. “And then Sullivan and Owen are not far off of that I-70 path.”
The state received more than 2,000 recommendations for the zones and picked 156. The nominated Opportunity Zones cover more than 1,000 square miles and 500,000 Hoosiers.