New Opportunity Zones Could Attract Buisness


By Ariel Pinsky

Athens, GA — Last Friday the plan for five new Opportunity Zones were released by Athens-Clarke County. According to the ACC, these zones are considered local redevelopment areas that have been designated as “areas needing assistance in redeveloping by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA).” The Businesses in the zone qualify to receive Georgia’s highest Job Tax Credit (JTC) of $3,500 per new job created. A business can enjoy the tax credit for up to five years, and then the offer expires though the larger zone remains in tact.

The zones include parts of Oneta Street, Bryan Street, Chase Street, and Barber Street. Most of the area is currently either industrial or unused land aroScreen Shot 2015-11-12 at 2.49.33 PMund the train tracks, with small retail stores and restaurant centers like Chase Park scattered throughout.

Businesses that can participate include retail and restaurants that create at least two new jobs within the tax year. The jobs created must be full-time, permanent jobs of at least 35 hours per week. The purpose of these measures is to attract more foot traffic so that small businesses will open up in the area. The jobs must also pay at least $435 per week ($22,620 per year) and offer at least some form of health insurance to employees.

The new opportunity zones offer an alternative to receiving the JTC  through the current Georgia “County Tier System.” According to the ACC, “in 10 years, an Opportunity Zone business could access $70,000 in tax credits while a Tier 2 business would only have access to $19,850 in tax credits.” The County Tier system requires businesses to create ten new jobs instead of two, and is limited to manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, processing, telecommunications, tourism, or research and development industries.

Some small businesses in and around the zone are reacting positively to the new plan.  One business owner Antonio Ramirez, who owns a Mexican restaurant in the new zone, is excited about any opportunity that could allow him to increase profits so he can better pay his employees.

Carolyn Christ, a print shop owner right outside the zone, thinks it’s a good idea but says it will be hard for already established smaller businesses, like hers, to benefit from the program. She explains that if the zone were to extend to her area, she still would not be able to participate because the cost of hiring additional workers would outweigh the benefits of the tax reduction.

County housing official Rob Trevena proposed the program to the ACC but agrees that this tax credit might be more difficult for established businesses to fully utilize the program. “If you’re an established business, unless you expand your business in some way, it’s probably not very beneficial,” Trevena noted.

He believes the program will still attract local business to the otherwise industrial area and that the Athens Clarke County government still has high hopes for future growth.


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