That eight tracts of land in the city of Erie were approved for the federal Opportunity Zone program creates a major opportunity to attract private investment to parts of the city that need it. But Erie must compete for the money.
The program, created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Donald Trump in December, provides tax incentives for investment in low-income areas. It allows investors to defer, reduce or even eliminate taxes on capital gains.
The timing is good. This comes amid major private and public investment in the city and a political and civic awakening centered on the Erie Refocused comprehensive plan.
Because Erie will be competing for capital with cities across the country, building on that awakening is vital to seizing this opportunity. That means public- and private-sector leaders must come together to market investment opportunities in Erie to local and national investors.
"We must get this right," Chris Groner, the city's director of economic and community development, said at Mayor Joe Schember's weekly news conference on Thursday.
It's an encouraging sign that a variety of political, business and civic leaders are lining up to do just that in collaborative fashion. The effort will be led by the city, the Erie Downtown Development Corp. and the new Erie County data center.
The emphasis on collaboration was evident in the size of the audience at Schember's news conference and the parade of representatives from local agencies and organizations who joined Schember on the dais in Erie City Council chambers. Schember said more than 35 local groups have signed on to collaborate on developing an Opportunity Zone investment prospectus for Erie.
Using draft plans developed in other cities as guideposts, Schember said, the players hope to develop a draft prospectus by early September and complete the plan by the end of October.
The tracts designated as Opportunity Zones, including the city's downtown core and the bayfront and neighborhoods to the south, align nicely with the priorities of Erie Refocused and other initiatives, including the Erie Innovation District. The challenge is fitting all of the pieces together.
Erie in the past has too often failed to summon the cohesion, focus and energy needed to seize its opportunities. It's vital that all sectors of the community come together to break that spell once and for all.
The Opportunity Zone program has the potential to be transformational. And Schember and company are off to a promising start.