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:
- You make your business more attractive to potential outside investors and can seek investments (tax incentivized investment opportunity)
- 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)
- You have your own capital gains and want to invest them into your business and receive tax benefits (invest in yourself)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)*
- 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)*
- 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:
- Be located in one of the 49 Opportunity Zone census tracts in the county
- 70% of tangible property owned or leased must be located within the zones and acquired after December 2017
- 50% of total gross income must be derived from active business conducted in the zones
- 40% of intangible property must be used in the zones
- Additional tests for Non Qualified Financial Property (e.g. stocks, bonds, and long-term notes) and sin businesses apply
- Additional tests for timeliness of use of funds and working capital safe harbors apply
- 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.*