The city adopted a Central City Urban Redevelopment Plan in July, which is an essential step in getting tax credits through the Opportunity Zone program, designated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Canton Economic Development Director Matthew Thomas said one of the redevelopment plan’s goals is to apply for an Opportunity Zone in Canton’s Historic Downtown and Central Business District. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs would then make the decision on whether or not to designate an area as an Opportunity Zone.
“Some of the characteristics they search for are blight, pervasive poverty, under-development and general distress. We believe we have a strong case, given the age of many of the structures within the corridor, in addition to poverty statistics, and the blight exhibited within the corridor,” Thomas said. “Additionally, we have the River Mill Enterprise Zone, which was readopted by City Council in December of 2013. Portions of the proposed Opportunity Zone will overlap with the Enterprise Zone, creating a dual incentive package at the western boundaries of the central city area.”
Thomas said the central city area designated as an Opportunity Zone would spur growth, encourage investment, create job opportunities and “address much of the blight, general distress and some of the pockets of poverty within and adjacent to our downtown.”
The next step in moving forward with an Opportunity Zone application is to compile the supportive data and maps, as well as the legal documents necessary for application, Thomas said.
“We hope to have it submitted to the DCA by November. It is left to the DCA’s discretion as to whether or not the Urban Redevelopment Plan is approved for the Opportunity Zone, but we are optimistic that it will be,” Thomas said.
If approved, the city would join the efforts of Cherokee County, which has already established two Opportunity Zones.
In 2010, Cherokee County decided to offer a tax break to businesses by creating its Southwest Opportunity Zone, which runs from Interstate 75 along Ga. Highway 92 to Woodstock Road. The purpose of the opportunity zone is to spur economic development and job growth in that portion of Cherokee County through coordinated public-private partnerships in development and redevelopment.
The county joined efforts in 2012 with the city of Canton and the city of Ball Ground to create the first multi-jurisdictional opportunity zone in the state. The opportunity zone runs from Interstate 575 Exit 19 to Exit 27 in Ball Ground and is referred to as Technology Ridge.
Cherokee County Economic Development Project Manager Heath Tippens guides the existing industries and new companies through the detailed process of getting certified and receiving the tax credits.
“The zones have been advantageous to the community from both a business recruitment standpoint as well as existing industry retention and expansion. Almost 80 percent of our prospects request available sites/buildings within the opportunity zones,” said Misti Martin, president of the Cherokee County Office of Economic Development.
“The zones provide state job tax credits for companies creating jobs, and in the zone, only two qualified jobs must be created to receive the credit. To obtain regular state job credits in areas outside of the opportunity zones, you must create a minimum of 25 new jobs. This redevelopment tool is beneficial to all sizes of business, especially small businesses.”
Martin said the credit is $3,500 per job created, per year for five years and is applied to the company’s state income tax liability and/or payroll withholding.
“The zones are difficult to obtain, but very valuable for redeveloping areas,” Martin said.