Uniting Little Rock: One Opportunity Zone at a time

by Frank Scott, Jr. (fscottjr@littlerock.gov) 667 views 

Throughout our campaign, I noted that one of the many roles of the next mayor of Little Rock would be acting as our “Chief Growth Officer.” A part of that role requires that I do what it takes to support our homegrown businesses and create an environment that encourages investment in our people and in our businesses. That looks like 935 new jobs announced in our city since we took office, convening our Red Tape Committee to streamline processes for new developments, and the establishment of an Entertainment District in our River Market.

That also looks like finding ways to take advantage of every resource at my disposal as Mayor, including new federal programs like the Investing in Opportunity Act and the Act’s “Opportunity Zones.”

Four areas, including areas south of I-630 and east of I-30, were designated for investment as “Opportunity Zones” by Governor Hutchinson last April. Communities like Pettaway, East End, and the 12th Street Corridor are now Opportunity Zone communities. These are all areas that we know are worthy of investment but simply haven’t gotten the attention or resources they’ve needed to succeed. If attracting investment to communities south of I-630 and east of I-30 sounds familiar, it should. The Opportunity Zones program aligns with the promise I’ve made to Little Rock since the day I announced that I was running for Mayor: that I’d do my best to ensure that every corner of our city has a fair shot at investment and opportunity. Opportunity Zones can help make this a reality.

The program works by providing tax incentives for investors who invest in special “Opportunity Funds.” The Funds would, in turn, invest into small businesses or community development projects that create jobs and bring much-needed investment to these communities.

Opportunity Zone investments also would help us build upon our existing assets. Clinton National Airport is in an Opportunity Zone, presenting a potentially transformative opportunity to expand the freight capacity at our airport and the jobs that come with it. Industrial areas near the Port of Little Rock have also been designated, giving investors a chance to invest in developing sites that can host high-paying, quality manufacturing jobs for Little Rock residents. Our Opportunity Zones also are adjacent to community institutions like Philander Smith College, Arkansas Baptist College, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, UAMS, Bowen Law School, and UA-Little Rock, providing additional tools to support the communities around our crown jewel institutions that help make Little Rock the vibrant community we know it to be.

And, we can do this while actively engaging our Opportunity Zone communities to ensure that whatever investments happen are responsive to community needs. I’ve seen cities like Birmingham, Alabama, for example, launch the Birmingham Inclusive Partnership – a public-private partnership that invests in Birmingham’s Opportunity Zones that includes both an investment committee to raise and deploy capital and a Community Investment Board that ensures that the Partnership remains responsive and accountable to Opportunity Zone communities. Other cities like Louisville, South Bend, and Erie, Pennsylvania have taken steps forward to make Opportunity Zone investments a reality in their cities that ensure that long-standing residents have a voice. Little Rock should and will do the same.

Because I believe that big ideas like Opportunity Zones require a thoughtful, inclusive approach that brings all of Little Rock to the table, I am announcing our Opportunity Zone Task Force. The Task Force will include a cross-section of respected civic leaders such as Will Rockefeller and Lisa Ferrell, who will help us identify potential projects, understand how other cities have been able to attract Opportunity Zone investments to their communities, and present recommendations to the City and our Opportunity Zone communities constituting an Opportunity Zone strategy that moves Little Rock forward.

Little Rock’s Opportunity Zones provide an opportunity to display just how closely the City of Little Rock can work with our economic development partners, our civic institutions, our Congressional delegation, and Governor Hutchinson’s economic development team to invest in our Opportunity Zone communities.

We all win when we work together to invest in ourselves, and Opportunity Zones present precisely the kind of opportunity that can bring government and the private sector together for the greater good. It’s time.

With that said, let’s get to work.

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Editor’s note: Frank Scott, Jr. was sworn in as Little Rock mayor on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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