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  • Allen Turner

Three census tracts in Columbus are Economic Opportunity Zones

Three census tracts in Columbus County have been certified by the U.S. Treasury as “Economic Opportunity Zones,” qualifying investors to receive federal tax incentives for investing in low-income communities. The incentives include a temporary tax deferral for capital gains and a permanent exclusion from taxable income of long-term capital gains.

This map from the web site shows the rough outlines of census tracts in Columbus County certified by the U.S. Treasury as Economic Opportunity Zones. Tracts identified as Fair Bluff/Cerro Gordo and Tabor City are seen at the left, while a tract titled Boardman is in the center. The center inset is less than accurate, however, because it doesn’t show the Boardman tract extending all the way west to Boardman, while a detailed text description and another map within the web site show those extended boundaries.

The three census tracts are broadly identified as “Fair Bluff/Cerro Gordo,” “Tabor City” and “Boardman,” but the names are not particularly descriptive. For example, the Boardman tract runs from the Boardman community in the west eastward to rural areas north of Whiteville.

The Fair Bluff/Cerro Gordo tract runs from the state line in the west and just east of Cerro Gordo in the other direction and continues southward, where it joins the Tabor City tract, which extends south to the Guideway community.

While three zones were certified in the county, a total of 252 such zones were certified in the state. Federal law allows states to designate up to 25 percent of its total low-income census tracts. Because North Carolina has about 1,000 such tracts, only 252 tracts in the state could be selected as opportunity zones.

The program is designed to attract capital investment into low-income areas through tax benefits.

According to the website, 23 percent of the population in the Cerro Gordo/Fair Bluff trace lived in poverty, median household income was $37,279 and the unemployment rate was six percent. The web site did not provide dates or years for the data.

In the Tabor City tract 26 percent were living in poverty, the median household income was $34,659 and the unemployment rate was five percent, while in the Boardman tract 17 percent lived in poverty, the median household income was $36,406 and the unemployment rate was 15 percent.

More than 450 unique North Carolina census tracts were identified for further review after a public comment and outreach period and the final list of 252 candidate zones was submitted to the U.S. Treasury on April 20/ The federal government certified the 252 tracts – including the three in Columbus County – on May 18.

The certified list of North Carolina Opportunity Zones includes at least one low-income census tract in all 100 counties, and tracts that touch the state’s major industrial site development areas and hurricane-impact areas are included. Taken together, the 252 tracts feature a total population over 1.1 million North Carolinians, nearly 45,000 families with children in poverty and over 50,000 business establishments.

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