Small businesses met with lawmakers in downtown Charleston to tour the newly opened Charleston Tech Center and talk about the economic impact of opportunity zones.
U.S. Senator Tim Scott and former House Speaker Paul Ryan along with US Representatives Joe Wilson and Ralph Norman met with representatives from some of the companies that call the Charleston Tech Center home.
According to Sen. Scott, "opportunity zones" have led to more than $75 billion invested in revitalizing American communities. It was a chance for Sen. Scott to get up close and personal with representatives from his hometown to discuss the differences the "opportunity zones" have made in Charleston.
Ernest Andrade, Executive Director of Charleston Digital Corridor, says the $54 million building on Morrison Drive and the companies housed inside help attract and keep recent college graduates in the city.
“As a state, we were producing them [college graduates], but basically we were a net exporter of talent to the rest of the country and we had to reverse that,” Andrade said. “We had to basically avoid that brain drain and create opportunities.”
The opportunity zone legislation written by Sen. Scott allows governors to designate economically-distressed communities for federal tax incentives to entice private investments into the area. There are currently more than 8,700 areas designated as opportunity zones in the United States with 135 of those zones in South Carolina.
Scott says when it comes to opportunity zones he wanted the focus to be on the communities and that gentrification has remained low in those areas. Ryan echoed that point saying it was about revitalization and not gentrification.
“One of the things that we always thought about when this happened was we didn’t want this to be a regentrification machine,” Ryan said. “We want it to be about revitalization about bringing capital into these communities to revitalize those communities meaning to revitalize the people in those communities.”
Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he had worked on similar programs in the past and felt that private investment into communities was one of the best ways to fight poverty.
“This is a vision we’ve always had about one of the best ways at fighting poverty by getting private capital, private entrepreneurs into the space to make a big difference,” Ryan said.
Scott says meetings like the one on Friday help when planning for future legislation to maximize the potential of opportunity zones.
“We as a country need to lean into funding infrastructure in such a way that it includes high speed broadband and connection issues need to go away for all of America, rural Americans, inner city Americans to have access to this next gig economy that’s not coming, it’s here,” Scott said.
According to Live5 News, the Charleston Tech Center currently includes the 92,000 square-foot building and an 816 space parking garage. They say they have the land to build a similarly sized building next to the current one which could potentially allow up to 900 tech jobs in the space.