Amber Smith

As a catalyst for business growth, the Tucson Metro Chamber is looking to create opportunities into the future through collaboration, cooperation and public-private partnerships with the ultimate goal of a thriving, healthy economy. The more vibrant our economy, the more we are able to address the largest issue facing our community: Poverty. 

While there is no silver bullet to reach the pinnacle of success for the highest gross domestic product in America, or even Arizona, there are existing and potential tools to help us rise to the top. Our impoverished area can be leveraged for economic success and vitality throughout Tucson, as evidenced by the number of downtown cranes, infill development projects and multiple new residential communities going vertical from border to border within Pima County.

The Tax Cuts and Job Act of 2017 has created Opportunity Zones to encourage long-term investments in low-income urban and rural communities nationwide. This new community development program has identified qualifying zones within both Pima County and the city of Tucson that are eligible for tax incentives for investors to re-invest their unrealized capital gains. 

With a short window requiring the governor to designate up to 25 percent of the total number of low-income census tracts in a state as Opportunity Zones, the program offers incentives for investment. The state of Arizona, and specifically the city of Tucson and Pima County, have much to gain from this incentive program and are being proactive in their approach in receiving this designation for up to 27 zones.  

The Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District and the Government Property Lease Excise are both excellent local examples of how public-private partnerships, when structured with a high-level of transparency and strategic initiative, can be enormously successful. The GPLET can provide up to eight years of property tax abatement to allow projects to become economically viable within the Central Business District, while the Rio Nuevo District has leveraged $30 million in spending to generate $300 million in investment. 

We must continue expanding our toolbox of incentives, encouraging increased private sector investment. Public-private partnerships work. Former U.S. Congressman Andrew Young said: “Too many communities in our great nation feel passed over by economic growth and forgotten by our political leaders. We need a new formula for the public and private sectors to work together to generate new investments, new businesses, and new good paying jobs in places that have fallen behind.”  

Our local and state officials must remain attentive in not only supporting existing public-private partnerships, but in identifying new opportunities including the recently presented Opportunity Zones. Within the City of Tucson and Pima County, there is a proven track record of success in developing and implementing public-private partnerships and the Tucson Metro Chamber will showcase examples of these success stories and advocate for additional opportunities. 

Designation for the limited number of statewide Opportunity Zones is competitive, so residents and business owners must communicate with our state-elected officials. The Tucson Metro Chamber will continue to convene leaders and influencers to champion a stronger business community because when business grows, communities thrive.

Amber Smith is the President and CEO of the Tucson Metro Chamber.