Aiken tract named to national ‘opportunity zone’ investment shortlist

Plans to revitalize economically ragged communities throughout South Carolina received a jolt from Gov. Henry McMaster on Friday morning.

At a press conference in Ridgeway, McMaster announced he had submitted a list of 135 distressed areas within the state to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The tracts on that list – known as “opportunity zones” under a new program included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 – are eligible for tax incentives designed to spur hyper-local investment.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., played a role in the passage of the opportunity zone program.

The overall operation allows unrealized capital gains to be invested into opportunity zones with no upfront tax.

That tax bill can be pushed back until 2026 at the latest. If an investment in an opportunity zone is held for a decade, no capital gains tax will be assessed.

Of a total 1,097 census tracts in the state, 538 were assigned opportunity zone status by the Treasury. Only 25 percent of the 538 eligible areas could be further named to program.

Earlier this year, Aiken City Council submitted a request to the governor seeking opportunity zone recognition. A portion of northernmost Aiken made McMaster’s shortlist.

“We’re confident that we’ve been able to implement a collaborative approach to designating these communities – with input from local governments across the state – that will eventually mean further private investment and economic growth in the areas that need it most,” McMaster said Friday in a prepared statement.

The nominated area in Aiken stretches from Rutland Drive to the north; Beaufort Street N.E. to the east; Colleton Avenue S.E. to the south; and Vaucluse Road to the west.

Tim O’Briant, the City’s community affairs and tourism manager, said getting the governor’s nod is good news for the Northside community.

“The intent of the opportunity zones is to funnel investment and capital into portions of our state and our nation that kind of haven’t participated in the recovery that we’ve seen since the recession…” O’Briant said. “It can just create a lot of jobs and bring a lot of money to the table.”

The selected tract is home to more than 6,000 people, according to a five-year census study. The tract has a poverty rate of 41 percent, with a median household income of $25,694.

The Treasury has 30 days to rule on McMaster’s proposal.