Opportunity Zone application gets Lyon County support

Photo by Deb Gau Marshall Economic Development Director Tara Onken speaks to the Lyon County Board about the Opportunity Zones program.

MARSHALL — There were a lot of questions that couldn’t yet be answered about a new economic investment program that could benefit the cities of Marshall and Tracy.

The Opportunity Zones program was just that new, said Marshall Economic Development Director Tara Onken.

However, Lyon County commissioners said, it didn’t look like there downsides to applying for the program. Commissioners voted their support for an Opportunity Zone application.

At the commmissioners’ regular meeting on Tuesday, Onken gave a short presentation on Opportunity Zones, a program meant to help investors make use of unrealized capital gains. EDA Director Cal Brink gave a similar presentation to the Marshall City Council last week.

The Opportunity Zones program was created by Congress in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“Basically, this is a way for investors to invest unrealized capital gains in distressed communities,” Onken said. The program includes tax incentives like a temporary deferral on capital gains taxes, and exemptions on capital gains on investments made through an Opportunity Fund.

Onken said the investments made through the program can be used for development purposes ranging from industry to residential housing.

“Investors are taking note,” Onken said.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will be tasked with designating around 133 Opportunity Zones, located in economically distressed census districts across Minnesota, Onken said.

In Lyon County, both the city of Tracy and one of Marshall’s three census districts are eligible to apply to be an Opportunity Zone, she said. Onken said the Marshall EDA has been working with Tracy’s Economic Development Authority coordinator to put together applications.

“We do have to rank the census tracts” by priority, Onken said. She said the Marshall district would probably be the No. 1 priority, and Tracy the No. 2.

“Why put Marshall above Tracy?” asked Commissioner Rick Anderson.

Onken said that the eligible district in Marshall included the city’s industrial park, which could open up investment and development opportunities for companies like Ralco. Marshall also met more of the program’s criteria, she said.

“It’s not that Tracy is excluded, by any means,” she said.

But given the number of applicants for the program, Anderson said, “You’re only probably going to get one of them.”

Onken said supporters hoped both zones would be approved.

There were some questions, from both commissioners and members of the public, that Onken couldn’t answer Tuesday.

“There’s so many unknowns I wish I could answer,” Onken said. However, she said there haven’t yet been many details coming from the state or federal government on how the program will work. Both knowledge of the Opportunity Zones program and its March 8 application deadline came up very fast, she said.

Anderson said he had also heard only limited information on the Opportunity Zone program from a representative from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“From what I can see here, we’ve got nothing to lose if we put in an application,” said Commissioner Gary Crowley.

Commissioners voted to support the application for Opportunity Zones in Marshall and Tracy, with Marshall as the No. 1 priority.