Building the momentum needed to fuel economic development — especially in regions hit hard by job losses, lingering unemployment and increasing poverty — requires keeping an eye on the ball.

Ecomonic leaders and elected officials joined forces this week to do just that, hosting a roundtable conference and walking through downtown Shamokin to keep an eye on local assets that could lead to future opportunities.

U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, whose 9th Congressional District includes Shamokin, and state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107 of Northumberland County, hosted the gathering of representatives from the Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program and local organizations to offer guidance on Opportunity Zones, tracts of land designated for investment incentives.

A federal bill passed in December 2017 enabled the governor to designate certain Opportunity Zones. Investments made by individuals through special funds in these zones will be permitted to defer or eliminate federal taxes on capital gains, all with the goal of attracting investments that lead to economic growth.

The governor designated 300 eligible tracts based on economic data, recommendations from local partners and the likelihood of private-sector investment.

There are three of these Opportunity Zones in the Central Susquehanna Valley, located in Shamokin, Sunbury and Danville.

“This is a very hot item being talked about nationwide, said Congressman Meuser. “We are talking about revitalization opportunities in Shamokin. We have some great opportunities here,” he said.

More than 50 people attended the forum in Shamokin and optimism appears to be rising.

“What we are looking at is lifting the entire area,” said Kathy Vetovich, a business owner and participant in Shamokin Area Business for Economic Revitalization.

Lawmakers say that Opportunity Zones, created under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, have the potential to reduce poverty. Among the Pennsylvania tracts designed as Opportunity Zones, 120 of them — 40 percent — have a poverty rate above 35 percent, 198 of the zones — 66 percent — have lower-than-average median family incomes and 202 of the designated tracts — 67 percent — are in areas where the unemployment rate is higher than 10 percent.

Priorities and special considerations were also given to areas that do not have an economic “anchor” such as an airport, hospital or large employer.

Masser told us that Shamokin not only has its eye on the ball, “We’ve got the ball moving with revitalization and we want to keep the momentum going and increase the speed.

“New investment means new taxpayers coming into the city,” Masser said of Shamokin. “We can bring Shamokin back from the brink, get out of Act 47 (the Financially Distressed Municipalities Act) and be self-sustaining again.”

That’s the kind of optimism needed to keep a ball of economic development and opportunity moving forward in Shamokin, Sunbury and across the Central Susquehanna Valley.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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