Vice president, Sen. Tim Scott highlight opportunity zones during Columbia visit

COLUMBIA — Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott on Thursday together explored one of South Carolina’s many opportunity zones, drawing attention to the investment initiative the senator shepherded through Congress.

The two Republicans, Scott representing South Carolina, toured an area around – and including – the Meeting Place Church of Greater Columbia, which is tucked into a northern corner of the city.

In a post-tour speech, addressing a sizable crowd, both men touted opportunity zones as a tool designed to revitalize economically distressed or otherwise impoverished areas across the nation.

“The opportunity zones, to me, is that olive branch of hope. It’s that notion that everyone in every place at any time should be blessed with opportunities,” Scott said. “And I am thankful that we were able to get that passed, and it’s now law.”

“Opportunity zones, for those of you not fully aware, are areas of the country that for too long have been left behind,” Pence said, continuing: “It’s all about making sure that as the American economy expands, it’s going to expand for every American.”

Scott during his remarks described the vice president as an opportunity zone “champion.”

Opportunity zones – officially designated tracts of land – are meant to attract development by way of tax incentives. The opportunity zone program went into effect when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act kicked in near the end of 2017.

There’s one opportunity zone in Aiken proper, generally located on the Northside, and there are two opportunity zones in the North Augusta area.

Aiken’s opportunity zone includes the old Aiken County hospital property and is home to more than 6,000 people.

Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh on Thursday morning said he hopes the opportunity zone spurs spending and lures developers to the city.

Tim O’Briant, an assistant to the city manager for business development, described the opportunity zone program as “one of the most generous tax shelters in history.”

“This is a brick on the scale because money makes all the difference,” O’Briant said.

Bedenbaugh said there’s certainly been some interest in the city’s northerly zone.

“We believe that there’s tremendous opportunity,” he said.

O’Briant agreed. The business development czar said there’s been a “number” of developers who have poked around recently.

The median income in the Aiken opportunity zone is roughly $25,700, according to information from the city. The unemployment rate is slightly higher than 10 percent, per the same information.