NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Middle Tennessee residents are invited to a roundtable discussion Tuesday to learn about a tax incentive that can help bring economic development to low-income communities.

“It’s really looking to figure out what a community needs, it could be affordable workforce housing, it can be utilized for even infrastructure projects, or even operating businesses,” said Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) TNInvestco Director Lamont Price. “Every community is different, whether you’re urban micropolitan or a rural community. And so and a lot of times you really want to think regionally because again, what happens in one community could drive investment in economic development and other areas.”

TNECD is trying to educate more people about the Qualified Opportunity Zone incentive — a bipartisan effort that came about through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. It’s essentially an economic development tool that allows people to invest in distressed areas within their state.

“Since its inception roughly five years ago, the Qualified Opportunity Zone incentive has raised a significant amount of private capital, so we encourage our Tennessee stakeholders to take part in these events to learn more about Opportunity Zones and the robust QOZ incentive,” TNECD Commissioner said Bob Rolfe, “These discussions will allow community members located within Opportunity Zones to better understand potential projects that can result from investing in these areas of our state, which will, in turn, better equip our communities for future economic development growth.”

The department wants people to know they don’t need millions of dollars in capital to get a project off the ground. At the end of the day, it’s about making sure the project is community-driven.

“Make sure you know, whoever’s executing on a project the community understands, the community is educated and while it may take some time, and it may be tedious, if communities, if corporate partners, if investors, if developers are working together, and it’s intentional, these types of projects can get off the ground and be beneficial to everyone,” Price said. “We’ve seen OZ projects get off the ground, you know, for $140,000. So you don’t have to be a millionaire.”

There are 176 tract designations across 75 counties in Tennessee. That includes parts of North Nashville, the East bank of the Cumberland River, and areas South of Downtown. Here in Tennessee, there are more than 54,000 businesses operating within opportunity zones and 700,000 Tennesseans live within opportunity zones. Price said while they don’t have exact statistics, they know the incentive is working.

Opportunity Zones in Davidson County

Projects in Murfreesboro, Cookeville, and other areas outside of Davidson County are listed as well.

“I believe there is economic power in rural communities, small communities, and obviously urban areas as well,” Price said. “It’s about figuring out who these individuals are. And most of these folks want to see their communities advance.”

Several U.S. senators and congressmen filed a bipartisan bill to reform opportunity zones and Tuesday’s round table discussion in Nashville looks to address that as well.

“The Opportunity Zone incentive has the potential to unleash much-needed economic growth in high poverty communities across the country – communities that investors too often overlook. But without robust guardrails in place, the incentive could be undermined or abused by those who aren’t committed to uplifting rural and urban communities across the country,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). “I am proud to introduce this legislation with Senator [Tim] Scott [R-SC] to help restore the original promise of opportunity zones by steering private capital to reinvest in underserved communities that have been historically left behind and working to level the economic playing field.”

Here’s the information about the round table discussions in Nashville and Memphis:

Tuesday, May 10, 9-11:30 a.m. CDT
Tennessee State Museum
1000 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard, Nashville, TN 37208
To learn more and register, click here.

Thursday, May 12, 9-11:30 a.m. CDT
Epicenter Memphis
150 Peabody Place, Memphis, TN 38103
To learn more and register, click here.