Congressman, officials tout perks of zones

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce president Jason Fink, left, points out Williamsport Opportunity Zones to a group of federal officials during a tour following a forum at the Trade and Transit Centre II Monday.

U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, joined government officials Monday to sing the praises of Opportunity Zones they say can help bring economic development to the city of Williamsport.

The tax incentive program created by the Trump Administration has identified three Opportunity Zones in the city.

“We support this program,” said Matt Baker, a former state representative from Tioga County, now serving as regional administrator of Health and Human Services.

Baker was among a number of people from federal agencies emphasizing the positive components of Opportunity Zones.

He called it “a huge tax incentive program.”

Cosmo Servidio, director of Region II, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the program is all about bringing capital and economic development into abandoned and under-developed sites.

During a tour of the city, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce President Jason Fink pointed out some of the Opportunity Zone sites where there exist potential for economic development.

For example, vacant land can be found at Mulberry and Third streets, not far from the site of ongoing development in the way of the Gateway Project connecting Lycoming College to the east end of downtown.

Another Opportunity Zone can be found in the city’s Newberry section and includes the industrial park.

City Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said the program presents interesting opportunities for the city.

“We need to get to work fast to get something on paper,” she said.

She pointed out the Park Avenue area as one of the more ripe areas for economic development.

Keller noted that a number of the Opportunity Zones are located throughout his 12th House District.

He said they can work to benefit many areas of communities that otherwise get left behind.

“It’s an incentive,” Joe DeFelice, of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said.

Fink noted that individuals or corporations can invest in Opportunity Zones.

Benefits of investments include deferral of tax on gains as late as 2026, as long as the gain is invested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund, according to officials.

The Opportunity Zones keep that designation for 10 years, but investors can hold their investments in a Qualified Opportunity Fund through 2047 without losing tax benefits.