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Opportunity Zone Businesses Receive Key Support in Riverside County

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OPINION

By Stacy Cumberbatch — Content Contributor

While the Opportunity Zone tax incentive introduced at the end of 2017 has well known benefits on the real estate development side, a lesser known aspect is how businesses can take advantage of the incentive for their own benefit. Riverside County aims to change that, doubling down on efforts to attract investment capital and new job opportunities to the county by fully utilizing the tool as part of its overall strategy. 

First, a bit of context. The Opportunity Zone incentive was introduced in December of 2017 as a bipartisan act as part of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, in essence, largely intended to be a job creation tool. Capital gains invested into the zones from the sale of real estate, stocks, or even cryptocurrency can receive attractive tax incentives including deferral, exemption, and exclusion of taxes for investing long term into the zones, with the maximum benefits coming from a 10 year investment period. In return, local communities, developers, and business owners can gain access to hyper local equity investments for development projects and business expansion. Now, in addition to seeking bank loans, or venture capital investments, Opportunity Zones capital is an entirely new source of capital with built in selling points to investors for project sponsors. Investors can be as small as local neighbors pooling gains or as large private equity funds or family offices, making the capital source truly ubiquitous. 

The zones were subsequently certified in June 2018, and guidelines around the legislation were released across three sets of regulations which took place between October 2018 to December 2019. With full clarity finally available, 2020 was poised to be a strong year for business investments into Opportunity Zones. Then a global pandemic hit in early February 2020, putting the world to a halt and leading the IRS to extend timelines for investment activity into the zones first to December 2020, and in January 2021, again extended relief to March 2021. In short, for individual investors with any capital gain event between October 4, 2019 and October 2, 2020, the deadline to invest could have been as long as a year versus the standard 180 days. 

Still, tremendous funds have been moved into the zones with estimates of equity raised by qualified opportunity funds (QOFs) tracked by Novogradac surpassing $15 billion at the end of 2020. More importantly, the number of investments in businesses is growing. NES Financial, a leading fund administration platform announced on its 2021 Trends report that after analyzing 300 QOFs there is a growing investment in operating businesses, up from roughly 20% of funds on their platform in 2018 to close to 32% in 2020. 

Businesses considering expanding in Riverside County are starting to notice this trend. Opportunity Riverside, an economic development advisory group focusing on Opportunity Zones and adjacent areas in the county, has been assisting and tracking both real estate and business projects in Opportunity Zones and has a current pipeline split almost 50/50. Some of the businesses preparing for Opportunity Zone capital range from an electric microgrid company in the Coachella Valley to a water desalination plant in the Salton Sea to an autonomous vehicle SaaS company with offices in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. 

A huge opportunity ahead. For business owners, some of the incentives of being in an Opportunity Zone or relocating to one include:  

  1. You make your business more attractive to potential outside investors and can seek investments (tax incentivized investment opportunity)
  2. You have the potential to retain more ownership in your business when receiving investment from a Qualified Opportunity Fund (a bigger slice of the pie)
  3. You have your own capital gains and want to invest them into your business and receive tax benefits (invest in yourself) 
  4. You want to receive priority consideration for federal contracting opportunities (via OZ and HUB Zones overlaps– 44 of the 49 OZs are also Hub Zones)
  5. You want to defer duty payments on merchandise until it is entered into U.S. commerce (via OZ and Foreign Trade Zones overlaps– 11 of the 14 cities that contain OZ census tracts also contains Foreign Trade Zone census tracts)
  6. You want preference points or priority consideration for grant opportunities (over 300 grants & programs aligned to OZs, some restrictions apply–nonprofit and/or local government partnership required in most instances)*
  7. You want to bring jobs into and impact a historically under-invested community that has been designated an OZ (impact investment / do good & do well)*
  8. You want to be in potential future paths of progress (following the zones)*

In fact, Blake Christian, CPA Partner with HCVT states that “Riverside County represents one of the top counties in the U.S. to start or move an OZ business into due to existing OZ buildings and infrastructure, large tracts of undeveloped land, excellent demographics, and very pro-business leadership. Due to the very flexible final regulations it is relatively easy to meet the OZ tests and entrepreneurs can start, acquire or move an existing business into an OZ census tract and begin the OZ tax-free period. Furthermore, Internal Revenue Code Section 1202 (Qualified Small Business Stock) can offer added flexibility for businesses in certain industries.

To qualify as a Qualified Opportunity Zone Business (QOZB), a few criteria have to be met according to IRS regulations including: 

  1. Be located in one of the 49 Opportunity Zone census tracts in the county
  2. 70% of tangible property owned or leased must be located within the zones and acquired after December 2017
  3. 50% of total gross income must be derived from active business conducted in the zones
  4. 40% of intangible property must be used in the zones
  5. Additional tests for Non Qualified Financial Property (e.g. stocks, bonds, and long-term notes) and sin businesses apply
  6. Additional tests for timeliness of use of funds and working capital safe harbors apply
  7. Additional investment criteria/underwriting may apply varying by investor

What’s Next in Riverside County. Given the number of tests needed to qualify as a QOZB, specialized CPAs and Attorneys are always needed in the process. To connect businesses and projects needed with the resources needed to complete deals, Blended Impact Labs, a venture development firm and innovation lab, is hosting a series of webinars in the month of April as part of Riverside County Innovation Month to focus on supporting businesses expanding and raising capital in Opportunity Zones with access to investors, CPAs, state and local resources, and more. 

Stacy Cumberbatch, Managing Director of Blended Impact Labs, adds “Riverside is unique in the variety of industries we support that would be ideal for Opportunity Zone investments. From life sciences labs and R&D anchored by UCR in opportunity zones in the west, to clean energy, agritech, and manufacturing businesses in zones in the central over to the east, our geography supports a wide range of possibilities for business expansion and gives investors great diversity in options. Additionally, local leaders have coalesced around key growth areas including sustainable logistics, cyber security, air emissions and environmental technology, and advanced manufacturing creating a welcome environment for businesses seeking to relocate to Southern California and grow their business.”

Interested businesses are invited to join the upcoming webinar series: 

  • April 7th: Opportunity Zones for Expanding Businesses
  • April 14th: Opportunity Zones, A Founder’s Perspective Raising Funds
  • April 21th: Inland Empire Innovation Ecosystem Report Launch 
  • April 28th: Opportunity Zones, Developer Roundtable

RSVP for any of the webinars here: https://www.opportunityriverside.com/news/march-21-newsletter

*Information within does not constitute tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax advisor for specific advice.*

The Inland Empire Business Journal (IEBJ) is the official business news publication of Southern California’s Inland Empire region - covering San Bernardino & Riverside Counties.

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Local Veteran and His Family Open New Graze Craze Charcuterie Business in Murrieta, California

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Southern California wine country gets another stylish culinary option, offering beautifully designed, hand-crafted grazing boards and picnic boxes

Graze Craze® has opened a new location close to the wine country of Southern California, where its artfully arranged sweet and savory grazing boards and boxes create a perfect pairing for food lovers. Located at 24530 Village Walk Place, Suite C, in Village Walk Plaza, the 1,021-square-foot store is owned and operated by disabled veteran Chris Stout and his wife, Stephanie Stout, with assistance from their teenage children.

At Graze Craze, highly trained experts known as Grazologists™ skillfully design charcuterie arrangements that feature an assortment of fine ingredients perfect for grazing, like fresh fruits and vegetables, premium meats and cheeses, artisanal sweets, nuts, house-made jams and more.

Chris Stout enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 2001 and served several deployments before being discharged in 2012. Since then, he has worked as a field service engineer for an electronics company and in manufacturing sales. Stephanie Stout has a bachelor’s degree in business accounting from the University of Phoenix and worked for an insurance broker before the couple’s first child was born; she then devoted herself full-time to raising their three children, who are now in high school.

Graze Craze charcuterie boards offer something for every lifestyle, dietary preference or palate and are available in a variety of size options to cater to any occasion, big or small. They incorporate a medley of flavors, like the fan-favorite Gone Grazey board, a perfectly balanced mix of cured meats, premium cheeses, crackers, fresh produce, nuts and more. The Vegegrazian is impeccably designed with a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables for anyone embracing a plant-based lifestyle. Those with an undeniable sweet tooth can enjoy the Sweet & Grazey, a hand-crafted board featuring an abundance of delectable desserts like chocolates and baked goods paired with sweet dips to accent the irresistible flavors.

New to the Graze Craze menu is the Brunch Board, a gourmet and innovative twist on any morning routine. Packed with breakfast meats, fresh fruits, eggs, pastries and more, this board is the perfect bagel-and-donut brunch alternative. Grazers can also tackle watch-party cravings with a seasonal Game Day Board, featuring a feast of

crowd-pleasing ingredients, like peppered salami, Italian prosciutto, goat cheese, cranberry walnut bread, raspberry jam and chocolate bark, to name a few.

The artisan-inspired charcuterie offerings at Graze Craze are available in different size options, from Char-Cutie-Cups and Picnic Boxes for nibbling to sharing-size boards with enough fresh food to feed a large party. The food displays are ideal for elevating work meetings, family gatherings, lavish events and more, while they also make for memorable gifts that impress.

Besides sharing the flavorful menu with the area, the Stouts are actively involved in numerous local school, business and community organizations. The pair supports the Murrieta Valley High School Marching Band Boosters and California High School Rodeo Association District 8, in addition to the Boy Scouts of America California Inland Empire Council and Friends of Temecula Troop 309, where Christopher Stout is a part of the adult leadership team. The couple has also worked with Homes For Our Troops, an impactful nonprofit organization that builds specially adapted homes for post-9/11 disabled veterans.

Graze Craze Murrieta is open for pick-up, catering and free local delivery Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 951-942-7293.

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Partners in Action: How CalOSBA is bridging the gap in funding and resources for Inland Empire small businesses

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By Josaline Cuesta, California Program Director, Small Business Majority & IEBJ Content Contributor

For Tara Lynn Gray, Director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA), entrepreneurship has always been a core principle of her life. Her journey as an advocate for small businesses wasn’t built on textbooks, but on her family’s roots in small business ownership. As a young girl, she watched her grandmother empower and elevate Black women’s presences by styling their hair and instilling confidence in their personhood. She witnessed the direct impact of small businesses on community members in real time, and that’s always stayed with Tara.

As a key partner of Small Business Majority, she stands as a champion for the dreamers and risk-takers; the pillars of the communities across California and in the Inland Empire. I chatted with her to share more about her work at CalOSBA, what entrepreneurs can expect when they meet with a CalOSBA advisor, and the resources and community support available to help boost entrepreneurship in the Golden State.

Tell us about CalOSBA’s role in the small business community.

“California has the biggest small business community in the country, accounting for 4.1 million small businesses in 2023 alone. The overwhelming majority have no employees at all, except themselves, which means they don’t have a Board of Directors, expensive consultants, and they definitely don’t have lobbyists. I take my role as their advocate seriously, talking with and listening to small business owners from up and down the state. During the pandemic, we were under a very bright spotlight, administering nearly $5 billion in direct relief funding and we’re proud of the grant programs we still oversee. But that’s only a small part of what we do at CalOSBA.

My team connects small business owners to information and resources to help them get started, manage their business and, most importantly, to grow. If they’re looking for help, we want to be the first door they knock on. In addition, we offer Outsmart Disaster training, which focuses on how to mitigate risks associated with natural disasters and recovery avenues available to them. I always say the flagship of our office is our support for the statewide network of Small Business Centers, providing 1:1 business assistance and training for small business owners of all industries and in dozens of languages. In addition, supporting partners that deliver these services–all the federally funded centers like the Small Business Development Centers and the Women’s Business Centers but also Chambers of Commerce and other nonprofits—is a core function of my office. And a big source of pride because we know what a difference they make for their clients.”

What can small business owners expect from meeting with a California Small Business Center advisor?

“Small business owners can expect to meet someone who is fully invested in them. Our Centers cover the full spectrum of business needs, from writing a business plan and obtaining the right permits and licenses, to finding capital, planning a succession strategy and marketing to e-commerce. Our business advisors provide the experience and the objective perspective to help business owners optimize their best assets: ideas, energy, and ability to keep adapting and learning. And they do it because they love helping other people succeed. What’s more, business ownership can become isolating and it may be challenging for entrepreneurs to find assistance. But they don’t have to go at it alone–and they shouldn’t, when these no-cost and low-cost services are available to them.”

What’s the most rewarding part of your role at CalOSBA?

“I always say I have the best job in the state. And it’s because I frequently have the honor to watch someone’s dream come true. I love a ribbon-cutting ceremony–Every time, big or small. It means someone dreamed of accomplishing something and worked hard for it: They opened the doors to their business, they made a sale, and hopefully they will hire their first employee and then it’s off to the races. But no matter what happens to that business, that ribbon-cutting is a milestone they made happen for themselves. There are many other events I get invited to, where you can just see the hope and pride, and even fear in their faces. I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer emotion of it, and I’m always humbled that I get to participate in that person’s big milestone.”

What are some new programs that can benefit small business owners in the Inland Empire?

“The number one question my office gets asked is how to access small business financing. To help address this key need, we’re launching the Technical Assistance for Capital Readiness program this February. The program is part of a bigger effort to fill well-known funding gaps in the state to benefit very small businesses and Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Individuals (SEDI). Through investments from the U.S. Treasury, the State Treasurer’s Office and IBank, the program is going to support lenders to facilitate “high risk” loans that they normally would not approve.

In addition to supporting lenders, my office also received $25.3 million in U.S. Treasury funding to start the new Capital Readiness network. The Capital Readiness Coaches in this network will help business owners get ready for the lending marketplace, help them make the best choices in a high interest-rate environment, and optimize the use of the capital once they receive it. The network is also designed to help spread the word about this opportunity to these SEDI-owned businesses, and some of those partners will be focused on supporting the Inland Empire small business ecosystem.”

How can business owners get in touch with CalOSBA?

“That’s simple! Check out calosba.ca.gov and sign up for our monthly newsletter, where I write a column and showcase success stories from our network, along with deadlines and updates on grant and workforce support programs. We’re also on social media, so I would encourage business owners to check out all of our channels.”

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2024 Banking & Financial Industry Outlook: Where Knowledge Meets Opportunity in California’s Financial Landscape

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In an age where financial trends rapidly evolve and economic landscapes shift with increasing unpredictability, the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce stands as a beacon of knowledge and opportunity. It proudly announces its sold-out annual event, the Financial Industry Update, an exclusive gathering tailor-made for California and the Inland Empire region. This prestigious event is set to unfold on January 18, 2024, at the Ontario International Airport Authority Conference Center, promising an enriching experience for attendees.

A Gathering of Minds in the Financial Sphere

The Financial Industry Update is more than just an event; it’s a crucial nexus for professionals, businesses, and community leaders keen on gaining a deeper understanding of the financial nuances specific to California and the Inland Empire. This year’s event is particularly significant, given the rapid changes and challenges facing the financial sector in the region.

Keynote Speaker: A Treasury of Knowledge

Leading the charge is none other than California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, a figure renowned for her acumen in public finance, economic development, and responsible fiscal management. Her role as the keynote speaker underscores the event’s stature, offering invaluable insights into the financial future of California and the Inland Empire.

Featured Speakers: A Diverse Spectrum of Expertise

Joining Treasurer Ma is a lineup of distinguished speakers, each bringing unique perspectives and expertise:

  • Ivo Tjan: As the Chairman, President, and CEO of CommerceWest Bank, Tjan’s journey from founding the company to leading it through an IPO is nothing short of inspirational. His leadership and insights are eagerly anticipated.
  • Hilda Kennedy: The Founder/President of AmPac CDC and a trailblazer in local government and economic development, Kennedy’s impact on small businesses and community financing is profound.
  • Edward Ornelas, Jr.: The visionary force behind the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce, Ornelas’s innovative approaches to business and economic development have redefined the region’s business narrative.

Event Highlights: More Than Just Talks

The event promises more than just insightful presentations. It’s a unique opportunity for networking, where professionals can connect, collaborate, and engage with potential partners and influential community figures. The interactive Q&A sessions will allow attendees to delve deeper into subjects, clarifying doubts and gaining more profound knowledge.

A Confluence of Opportunity and Expertise

This event symbolizes the intersection of knowledge and opportunity in California’s dynamic financial landscape. It’s a platform where insights are shared, connections are made, and the future of the financial industry in the Inland Empire is contemplated and shaped.

As January 18 approaches, the anticipation among California’s financial community continues to build. This event is not just a meeting of minds; it’s a forge where the future of financial industry trends and strategies will be hammered out, shaping the economic future of the Inland Empire and beyond.

For more information about the event and the Inland Empire Regional Chamber of Commerce, visit www.iechamber.org

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