Utah think tank offers new ‘playbook’ to catalyze rural community development

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Have you ever seen a building in your downtown area and thought it would be a great bookstore or a great restaurant, but the money isn’t there to fuel the dream?

In response to the lack of investment in rural communities, a nonpartisan think tank in Utah has released a “manual” on how to attract private investment.

The Sorenson Impact Center, located at the University of Utah, and the Association of Utah Counties released the “Rural Opportunity Zone and Recovery Handbook: A New Plan to Attract Private Investment for Community Priorities” in September. It grew out of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017, which encouraged economic development in struggling communities through Opportunity areas.

Patrick Mullen is one of the authors. He says the guide helps communities inside and outside these areas identify needs and learn how to talk to investors.

“It could be you just saying ‘we really want to do an affordable housing project’ or ‘we really want to get a new employer to come to town,'” Mullen said. “opportunity is perfect. You get more tax benefits. But even if you don’t, you can still have the same conversation by borrowing these best practices from the playbook and I think you always get a big advantage.

One example is in Brigham City, Utah, where the community wanted to revitalize an abandoned downtown building.

“They struggled to convince investors to commit. It was kind of like, ‘Why would we invest in Brigham City? It’s not really worth our time,” Mullen said.

But that changed with the tax incentives in the Opportunity Zones, and now it’s an antique furniture store and apartments.

The playbook is organized into a six-step process: plan your impact, build your team, understand investors, leverage incentives, create community vision, and connect with investors. These sections discuss things like planning and zoning, or tax incentives – tools that communities can use to restrict or attract development.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana , KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations throughout the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNM. To learn more, visit KUNM.

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