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Utah think tank offers new 'playbook' to catalyze rural community development

Marisa Demarco / KUNM

Do you ever see a building in your downtown and think that would be a great bookstore or restaurant, but the money isn’t there to fuel the dream?

In response to a lack of investment in rural communities, a non-partisan think tank in Utah has published a “playbook” on how to attract private investment.

The Sorenson Impact Center, housed at the University of Utah, and the Utah Association of Counties published the“Rural Opportunity Zone and Recovery Playbook: A New Blueprint to Attract Private Investment for Community Priorities” in September. It came about via the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which incentivized economic development in struggling communities through Opportunity Zones.

Patrick Mullen is one of the authors. He says the guide helps communities in and out of these zones identify needs and learn how to talk to investors.

“This could be you just saying, ‘we really want to do an affordable housing project’ or ‘we really want to attract a new employer to come to town,” Mullen said. “If it’s in the opportunity zone, great. You get more tax benefits. But even if it’s not, you can still have the same conversation borrowing these best practices from the playbook and I think still get a big advantage from it.”

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

“They had a hard time initially getting investors to kind of get on board. It was sort of like, ‘Why would we invest in Brigham City? It’s not really worth our time,'” Mullen said.

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

The playbook's organized as a six-step process – plan your impact, build your team, understand investors, tap incentives, create a community vision, and connect with investors. In these sections it goes into things like planning and zoning, or tax incentives — tools 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 across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2022 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Emma Gibson