December 04, 2020

Rural Opportunity Zones: An Untapped Resource for Rural Communities


On October 22nd, a small group of local stakeholders including representatives from the City of Havana, Havana National Bank, healthcare systems, University of Illinois Extension, the GPEDC, and local media toured Havana’s Opportunity Zone sites. These sites ranged from industrial properties to empty fields and brownfields. Potential use cases were discussed among the group as well as historical use-case context from local officials and public records.

Pictured: From left to right - Casey Peterson, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council - Mayor of Havana Brenda Stadsholt, Mason County Administrator Bill Blessman, University of Illinois Graduate Student Ximin Piao.
Mason County Administrator William “Bill” Blessman adds a historical perspective to an Opportunity Zone site.

An Opportunity Zone is an economically-distressed community where private investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for capital gain tax incentives. This makes such places quite desirable for investment firms and venture capitalists. Opportunity Zones were created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with the intended goal of stimulating economic development and job creation, by incentivizing long- term investments in low-income neighborhoods.

There are more than 8,760 designated Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOF) located in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and five United States territories. In the five counties served by the GPEDC, there are eight Opportunity Zones, two of which are in “rural” areas (Havana and Lincoln). Such zones have attracted a great deal of investment and development within urban areas, but rural areas have lagged behind.

The group used zoning maps to determine which projects might be suitable for each Opportunity Zone

In an effort to combat this trend and perhaps take better advantage of the Opportunity Zone in Havana, a coalition of local stakeholders has been working with U of I Extension and other partners to develop strategies to better market and utilize the zone. Ximin “Shelley” Piao, a graduate student from the University of Illinois is currently researching and developing strategies for rural Opportunity Zones for her capstone project. To ensure that these sites are properly promoted for potential investment, the GPEDC has provided expertise and resources that will increase future chances at securing funding.

The next steps are to convene focus groups to gather feedback from various groups in the community. These focus groups are meant to offer insights and provide guidance for the prioritization of Opportunity Zone development in Havana.

If you are interested in becoming a participant in a focus group or have questions about rural Opportunity Zone development, contact cpeterson@greaterpeoriaedc.org.


Casey Peterson
Director of Rural Outreach and Development
T: (309) 495-5975 | C: (530) 488-9142
E: cpeterson@greaterpeoriaedc.org

Photos courtesy of Wendy Martin.