HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - You might call it the silver lining to an economic cloud hanging over parts of Hancock County.
Two areas in Waveland and Bay St. Louis were just designated as Qualified Opportunity Zones by the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service. The designations are designed to spur economic growth by encouraging long-term investments in low-income and rural communities.
An area must have a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater, and/or family income of less than 80 percent of the area's median income to be eligible for consideration. Mississippi has 399 eligible census tracts, but only 100 designated Opportunity Zones.
Private investors can earn tax relief through investments made in these zones, and the tax benefits increase the longer the investments are in place.
"Opportunity Zones in Mississippi will attract significant private sector investment, help grow our state's economy and create new jobs," said Gov. Phil Bryant. "This program is another business advantage existing industries and new companies will find in our state."
Bill Cork, CEO of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, said, "The Opportunity Zone designation in Bay Saint Louis and Waveland is one tool that will really help us promote sustainable development, because the benefits to the investor in the Zone accrue over time and with patience. This tool helps align responsible investors with community objectives; and I hope that we see that play out as the program unfolds."
Blaine LaFontaine, president of the Hancock County Board of Supervisors, said, "We are grateful not one, but two census tracts in Hancock County were selected for this opportunity. We hope that private investment and incentives will help provide long-term investments to decrease poverty and increase per capita incomes in our community."
Bay St. Louis Mayor Mike Favre said, "With all of the amenities and incentives we already have in the Bay-Waveland area for business development, this is just one more program that can help us grow our economy."
Waveland Mayor Mike Smith said, "Waveland is very excited to be a part of the opportunity zone which offers tax relief to investors. It will be the shot in the arm that our community needs to spur development and create very needed jobs."
Glenn McCullough Jr., executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said global companies know the advantages of the state's productive workforce coupled with our superior business climate. "By adding Qualified Opportunity Zones, investing in Mississippi becomes an even more logical business decision for companies looking to locate or expand in our state," he said.
Opportunity Zone designations remain in effect for 10 years. For a map of designated Opportunity Zones in Mississippi, visit: https://www.cdfifund.gov/Pages/Opportunity-Zones.aspx