U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of Rock Hill was optimistic as he toured the 5th Congressional District Wednesday to highlight the newly selected "opportunity zones."
Norman said the so-called opportunity zones are parcels of land throughout the state nominated to boost economic development by bringing in private investors.
Ten census tracts in the 5th District were selected by Gov. Henry McMaster and designated opportunity zones.
"Folks, this is what excites me," Norman said Wednesday in downtown Lancaster. "To have private investors put private dollars to jump start projects is just phenomenal."
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Norman said investors are encouraged to invest in the area in exchange for tax breaks.
"There's no downside to it," Norman said. "I would ask the economic developers to get things ready for the companies to come take a look."
McMaster nominated 135 areas in South Carolina. Of the 10 zones designated in the 5th Congressional District, four are in downtown Rock Hill. Lancaster and Chester each have two zones.
Tamara Green Garris, Lancaster acting mayor after the Tuesday night death of former Mayor John Howard, said she is excited to move forward on plans for the opportunity zones.
"The two census tracks selected for the opportunity zones in Lancaster County have a persistent concentration of economic distress," Garris said. "They have seen the past few years, the decline in the number of employment opportunities, more businesses closing rather than opening and children who are growing up in the face of long odds of climbing the economic ladder.
"A solution is dearly needed and providing an avenue that, in theory, should unlock favorable investment opportunities is a smart step in the right direction."
Garris said while embracing new development, Lancaster must push for funding for affordable housing.
"Care must also be given that the opportunity zone will not serve as a subsidy for gentrification," she said. "The right balance of promoting development and helping existing residents must be met."
Lancaster County Economic Development Director Jamie Gilbert said he's seen programs like these opportunity zones succeed.
"The tax incentives are significant and they encourage investment," Gilbert said. "What we see from the economic development perspective is an enormous benefit to the downtown of Lancaster and also the surrounding area. But without a healthy and vibrant downtown, it makes it difficult to attract business to the community.
"The city of Lancaster has great opportunity to revitalize the Main Street area."
The opportunity zones must still be approved by the Department of Treasury, a "perfunctory" action, Norman said.
"I'm excited about the prospects for Lancaster, as well as cities all over this great state," Norman said.
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