How Regional EDA Groups Can Leverage Opportunity Zones, with Chad LaComb

Chad LaComb

How can a regional economic development planning commission help their communities leverage their Opportunity Zone designations? Invest Acadiana serves as a perfect example.

Chad LaComb is the economic development planner for the Acadiana Planning Commission (APC), a regional EDA organization located in Lafayette, Louisiana. APC has partnered with their regional chamber of commerce and community philanthropic foundation to create Invest Acadiana, an initiative to promote Opportunity Zone investment in the region.

Click the play button below to listen to my conversation with Chad.

Episode Highlights

  • The role that the Acadiana Planning Commission serves as a regional EDA organization.
  • How regional EDAs can serve as matchmaker for the Opportunity Zones ecosystem.
  • How Invest Acadiana’s OZ Pitch Fest is geared toward developing pitch decks and attracting capital into cream-of-the-crop Opportunity Zone projects in the region.
  • Background on the three finalists participating in Invest Acadiana’s OZ Pitch Fest.
  • How your local EDA organization can put together comprehensive economic development strategies for your region, and serve as an intermediary between different public and private entities.
  • How a regional Opportunity Zone prospectus can give a high-level overview of a community’s OZ assets.
  • High-level observations about Opportunity Zones and other place-based incentives from a project developer’s perspective.
  • How the Opportunity Zone designation can be leveraged to provide access to federal grant programs, even if you don’t directly raise OZ capital.

Featured on This Episode

Industry Spotlight: Invest Acadiana

Invest Acadiana

Created in 1973, the Acadiana Planning Commission (APC) functions as a Council of Governments (COG) and is designated by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) as a planning and development district that serves the Acadiana Region of Louisiana. APC has partnered with One Acadiana and the Community Foundation of Acadiana to create Invest Acadiana, an initiative to promote Opportunity Zone investment in the region.

Learn more about Invest Acadiana:

About the Opportunity Zones Podcast

Hosted by OpportunityDb.com founder Jimmy Atkinson, the Opportunity Zones Podcast features guest interviews from fund managers, advisors, policymakers, tax professionals, and other foremost experts in opportunity zones.

Show Transcript

Jimmy: Welcome to the Opportunity Zones Podcast. I’m your host, Jimmy Atkinson. Joining me today is the Economic Development Planner for the Acadiana Planning Commission, Chad LaComb. Chad joins us today from Lafayette, Louisiana. Chad, welcome to the podcast.

Advertisement

Chad: Well, thank you, Jimmy.

Jimmy: Yeah, glad to have you on. I know we were supposed to speak several months back, I think about six months or so. But COVID hit and everything got delayed, but great to have you on the show now. You guys have a big pitch competition coming up for a few groups in your area. And I wanna ask you about that a little bit later on during the course of today’s episode. But first, I want you to give me and my listeners a little bit of insight into what the Acadiana Planning Commission is exactly. I believe it’s an EDA organization. But can you explain to us what it is and what you do exactly?

Chad: Yeah, the Acadiana Planning Commission is equivalent to the councils of government that many states have and particularly states like Texas. We’re a regional planning organization that is designated by the Economic Development Administration from the Department of Commerce as sort of their arm in, a local government alarm in an area. We represent Louisiana Planning District Four, which is the Acadiana region. It includes a total of seven parishes and 48 municipalities. As a council of government, we really function with our board as being comprised of our parish presidents. The voice and the intermediary to the federal government in terms of securing financial assistance for economic development purposes.

We also house the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is an organization that is derived through the Department of Transportation. And really, we have two functions as transportation planning, as well as economic development. And we also work in the area of drainage planning and watershed initiatives. That’s the newer function of our organization. But each council of government’s a little bit different throughout the nation and has different functions that are derived, basically, from the needs of the area that they represent. And we’re government sector. We were created through state legislation and we’re designated by the federal government.

Jimmy: Gotcha. And there’s a public-private partnership group that you’ve teamed up on called Invest Acadiana. Is that right? Can you tell us who’s on that group exactly?

Chad: Okay, back when the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 passed, when the Opportunity Zone and incentive was instituted, we formed a partnership with our regional chamber of commerce, the private sector economic development agency, in our area called One Acadiana. In addition, we realized that there was an importance to have the philanthropic sector involved, and we pulled in the Community Foundation of Acadiana, we all represent the same geographic area. Their geographies are a little bit bigger than ours, they include two additional parishes. So as part of the Invest Acadiana initiative, we actually cover nine parishes or counties in Louisiana, representing a population of almost a million.

Jimmy: Got it. So okay, so we’ve got a little bit of background on you, and where you fit in, where the Acadiana Planning Commission fits in within your district of Louisiana specifically kind of centered around Lafayette and some surrounding communities. I wanna ask you a general question now about EDAs, or groups like yours, how do they help with Opportunity Zones exactly? Do they help bring money in or do they help folks who are on the development side or business owners or investors? What role do you serve exactly, specifically in regards to Opportunity Zones?

Chad: Well, we provide…we’re actually like a matchmaker. We pull together, using our partners at One Acadiana, through the foundation, different stakeholder groups and governmental entities to help make a project go. We’ll play matchmaker. For example, One Acadiana serves and maintains the certified sites program for the region, with public on the private side. And we can match potential business entities with those types as well as play matchmaker with local government and help our local governments put together place-based incentive packages that could potentially draw potential project or redevelopment opportunities. Well, matchmaking is probably the biggest role we have.

The second one is, actually, we’re the gateway to funding sources that are federal government, whether it be USDA, or EDA, or even the Delta regional authority, which is one of the three regional authorities throughout the U.S. that targets areas that are high-poverty, low-income.

Jimmy: Got it. That makes perfect sense. I wanna ask you more about your matchmaker role, and also how you’re working with local government a little bit later on in the podcast. But first, I wanna shift our attention now to the pitch competition. It’s largely why you’re on this episode today is to help promote the pitch competition that you guys are planning. It’s coming up next week, October 28th. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you’re doing there exactly?

Chad: Okay, OZ Pitch Fest, which is what we call it, is our pitch competition or “Shark Tank”-type event for Opportunity Zone projects. We, back in January of this year, put out a call for potential Opportunity Zone projects from throughout our region, and have been working with a group of 12 potential projects to narrow down that 12 to a more manageable number. And help them develop out their pitch decks so that they can better place their position to attract investment into their project.

Pitch Fest will highlight the three of the best of that cohort, and so we continue to work with the others in the various stages that they are in their development. And that evening, we’re looking at a 90-minute program where we’re gonna lead off the first pitch competition of the Innovate South Conference, which is a local or regional conference for entrepreneurial development in Acadiana.

The Innovate South Conference has a group of speakers throughout the day prior to our OZ Pitch Fest culminating in the first day on Pitch Fest for Opportunity Zones. These three projects include a healthcare company, a healthcare startup, as well as a grocery store in a food desert. The judges for the pitch competition and our partners for the pitch competition include the Invest Acadiana partners as well as Opportunity Machine who puts on Innovate South, the Innovate South Conference, as well as Accelerator for America, EIG and CDFA. So those three organizations are actually gonna be the judges for the pitch competition, with the winner getting national exposure through their various platforms to highlight the investable opportunity that that project represents. We use Pitch Fest as a way to do project development as part of the Invest Acadiana Program. And they’re using it as a matchmaker, as well as, you know, in the matchmaker role to help these projects find other incentives, place-based incentives that they can tap into through Louisiana Economic Development, as well as the Regional Chamber and even the Community Foundation.

This is the private side, we’re looking for private investment into these projects. Hopefully, people are gonna be tuning in and are investor-ready and are looking for a project to put money into and we’re doing our best to make sure that these projects have checked all the boxes and are investment-ready. We’re excited that Scott Turner from the White House Opportunity Revitalization Council will be the opening speaker for Pitch Fest. And from there, we will hear a little bit more about national Opportunity Zones trends from each of our judges before moving into short pitch presentations that are pre-recorded and a Q&A session with each of the pitch teams. I will just say that all starts off at 6pm Central Time on October 28th.

Jimmy: Yeah, that’s fantastic. I’ll ask you again toward the end of the show but tell us right now where can our listeners go if they wanna register for the event and sit in on the pitch competition and watch?

Chad: Okay, if you wanna register to the event, you can go to the Innovate South webpage, it’s innovatesouth.org, or the Plan Acadiana, not Plan Acadiana well, you could put it there, too. The Plan Acadiana website, as well as the Invest Acadiana website. It’s investacadiana.org or planacadiana.org. So, any one of those three websites will lead you to the registration page. Registration is free. We’re only using it just to make sure we have enough capacity to host the event.

Jimmy: No, that’s fantastic. No, it sounds like a really neat event, especially if you are looking to place capital in Opportunity Zones this year.

Tell me, you hinted a little bit at the three different teams that are pitching. But can you tell me a little bit more about each one? And can you disclose the names? I’d love to hear more about each one of those three teams.

Chad: Well, I’ll get started with the first one, Keys Behavioral Health Systems is working to put together an in-house treatment facility to address the opioid addiction crisis in one of our smaller communities. Currently, they operate as an outpatient clinic and they have a long history. They’re working with Novogradac, for example, as their accounting agency for putting together their OZ fund. And the inpatient facility will also, has transitional living facilities for people who are graduated from inpatient treatment and are in transitional living circumstances, so that they can break that cycle of addiction. So really, they’re gonna cover the three phases of opioid addiction and recovery. Through outpatient outreach, inpatient services, and then transitional living facilities at the one facility, it’s about a $17 million, $18 million project. They have secured, they have site control of the facilities where they’re gonna be located. It’s interesting because the buildings they’re using are all historic. So they’re gonna be using a combination of historic preservation tax credits and everything for the renovations for both the residential facility, the long-term residential facility, as well as the treatment facility.

The other projects we have are a Handy Stop grocery, which is a grocery store targeting Downtown Lafayette area, which is a food desert. And that is coming online in about the same time between 300 and 400 housing units are coming online in Downtown Lafayette as part of the Downtown Lafayette Revitalization Program, our project, and is intimately involved with the Downtown Development Authority here in Lafayette. And the final pitch is to your business opportunity or to your business, OZ business, they are located in the health care corridor in Lafayette which is the anchor institution in one of our Opportunity Zones as well as the university. And what they’ve developed is a medical treatment device to treat patients who are potentially going into shock or have traumatic brain injury. There’s a company called NeuroRescue and it’s developed a collar that can be either be heated or cooled based on the needs of the patient, which, after clinical trials and additional stuff, we’re hoping will help improve the survivability rate for people with traumatic injuries.

Jimmy: That’s great, all three of those sound like very worthy candidates to receive some funding and some additional national attention. Love the event that you’re putting on here coming up next week. Wanted to see if you could tell us a little bit more about how you play that role of matchmaker. And actually, more specifically, I wanna ask you… If our listeners out there are probably real estate developers or business owners, maybe they’re investors, and they wanna know, what can my local EDA organization do for me in terms of matchmaking? So, Chad, turning over back to you now, what do you do in order to facilitate that matchmaking? Obviously, you’re having this pitch event, Pitch Fest, next week. But beyond that, how else do you put people together in a room and set up these matches?

Chad: Well, and I kind of, I’ll backtrack a little bit and kind of go through the structure of our organization. We are responsible through EDA, the Economic Development Administration, of putting together a comprehensive economic development strategy for our region. And part of that Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, or CEDS, includes a set of goals and objectives. And that includes promoting priorities that are regional-specific. As part of that role, we also serve as the gatekeeper to the EDA grant process and funding, which provides support for critical infrastructure that helps grow businesses within our region. For example, if you have an industrial park that needs broadband access, it is within our scope to put together grant applications that would help bring broadband access to that industrial park. And that helps the industrial park recruit tenants. And now, in the perfect world, you have a tenant who’s looking for the park and you just need the infrastructure piece, which is where we would fit in.

We’ve also worked with the…one of the grants we have put together is for the Lafayette Regional Airport to help them put together their new terminal facility and that has a regional economic impact for businesses or making businesses attractive. But a lot of our investments are related and working with our federal agency partners, and programming that is or enhances infrastructure that is necessary for commerce or necessary businesses. And that includes working with not only the Economic Development Administration, or EDA, but the Delta Regional Authority, which includes the areas along the Mississippi River Delta that have a history of high poverty rates, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has a number of funding programs that we could tap into, to help provide the infrastructure that business needs. On the private side, our partners at One Acadiana, again, help with site selection. And then, the three of us together can coordinate with the state economic development industry, which packages other incentive programs, like the FastStart program here in Louisiana. So we play matchmaker between all of those different parts.

Jimmy: That’s very valuable what you’re doing, Chad, serving as an intermediary between all those different entities to really help make this thing go. I know you also work with, as do other economic development planners, works closely with local government. So how do you work with your local government in Lafayette and some of the surrounding communities? How do you coordinate with them exactly, and what do you advise them on?

Chad: Well, our local government focus is actually fundamental to how we’re even structured. Our board of directors is composed of the seven parish presidents or county presidents from the region. So that’s our board of directors. What we do is work directly with those individuals to find out what the priorities are for each of their counties or parishes. The second is we work with our local governmental entities, whether it’s a village or village of 500, or a city of 100,000, to develop out the incentive programs and packages that they have locally, particularly in the Opportunity Zones here. We tried… I like to think we tried to help develop a toolkit that our economic development entities, whether they’re public sector, private sector, or philanthropic, with developing the tools that they need to do the work that they do. And that includes the designations for Opportunity Zones, which we were integral in for our region, as well as helping our local governmental entities develop economic development districts, our TIF districts as other people… It’s a kind of economic development district. Other tax incentive programs, as well as working with EPA through assessment grants to help fund assessment of potential Brownfield sites and redevelop those sites. That’s kind of the big picture.

Jimmy: Good, yeah. And there are a lot of TIF incentives or other types of local economic development incentives or local tax credits that Opportunity Zone deal sponsors or fund issuers may be able to take advantage of. And so if you’re listening out there and wanna learn more about what might be going on in your neck of the woods, I would encourage you, if you are located in or around Lafayette, get in touch with Chad, but if you’re not, if you’re located anywhere else, figure out who your economic development planner is for your area and reach out because it could make a huge difference in your project. Chad, you have an announcement to make, I believe, about a regional prospectus that you’re putting together. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Chad: Back in 2019, in February, we unveiled one of the nation’s first regional prospectuses at an event that was co-hosted with the FDIC and the Office of Comptroller of Currency. That event was attended by about 400 people and we put together what was intended to be a high-level overview of all of the region’s 25 Opportunity Zones. The intent was always to come back behind that and use that as the front piece to develop out community-specific Opportunity Zone prospectuses for each of our rural communities. We were fortunate enough to get a grant from the Delta Regional Authority, which I mentioned earlier, to help develop out these prospectuses. And coming next week, as part of Pitch Fest, we’re gonna be unveiling seven Opportunity Zone prospectuses for seven communities that have Opportunity Zones throughout Acadiana.

And these all are designed to be complementary to each other and nest underneath the umbrella of Invest Acadiana, which is also a website. And has a portal that allows people to do matchmaking between Opportunity Zone funds, investors, property owners, and project. Prospectuses give you a high-level overview of each community. In fact, we did a pretty detailed, in-depth survey, an asset mapping survey of each community so that you have some of the intangible stuff that makes each community a unique place to live and work. It included cultural factors that just don’t measure up on the national spectrum. But it gives you an insight into the heart of each community and why each place is special, and why you would potentially want to locate into those communities.

Jimmy: Very good. That sounds fantastic. We’ll be on the lookout for that next week when you release that. Well, Chad, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today. We’re almost out of time, a couple more questions for you before we go. In general, what observations have you made about Opportunity Zones, or other place-based type incentives, any comments or insights there?

Chad: I think the biggest insight we can have is from the economic developers, and even any type of project developer perspective. Opportunity Zones are one tool in a range of tools in your toolbox. They’re more powerful when they’re used together. And what we’ve noticed is as we’ve assembled our Opportunity Zones as areas that we wanted to redevelop, we have layered more and more tools into the toolkits for each of those areas. And those incentives by themselves have led to investment. So we’ve noticed a lot of investment in our Opportunity Zones that not necessarily are using Opportunity Zone funds, but are taking advantage of the Opportunity Zone ecosystem that’s developed. I’ll give you an example of the town of Church Point, which is about 4,000 people, had a meat processing plant expand. They spent between $8 million and $10 million on their expansion. And they have a new meat processing plant coming online. That’s located within the Church Point Opportunity Zone but neither are using Opportunity Zone Funds.

However, they are taking advantage of other incentives that are place-based and centered on the Opportunity Zone. Another example we have is here in Lafayette, there is a development in our university corridor Opportunity Zones called Bottle Art Lofts. It’s a two-phase, multifamily housing development, targeted at workforce housing, with a leasing preference for artists. After both phases are complete, we’re looking at 100 housing units and an affordable range with people who are really pioneers that would be settling into the neighborhood. And that investment represents a $37 million investment. They’re not using Opportunity Zone Funds. But again, they’re taking advantage of other incentives that are in the Opportunity Zones that we’ve layered in. That corridor is one that we’ve also been fortunate enough to get a Department of Transportation BUILD Grant for. So on the public side, we have transportation improvements, which include converting the road to where it’s multimodal, and access-friendly for people who have bicycles or walking or using transit. And pairing that with the private development to really drive the revitalization of a whole corridor in the urban core of Lafayette.

Those types of pairings and partnerships are not just Opportunity Zones. But, for example, there’s an incentive under the federal grant programs currently, you score higher on grant applications if you’re in an Opportunity Zone. So we’ve been able to leverage the Opportunity Zone designations to help drive other private investments as well as not just those that are using Opportunity Zone Funds.

Jimmy: That’s fantastic. It’s always good to keep in mind and a good insight there that some people who move into Opportunity Zones, are doing developments in Opportunity Zones might actually not be taking advantage directly of the Opportunity Zone Incentive, but will be beneficiaries of further catalyzing or economic development just within that area there. And of course, as you mentioned, there are a lot of other incentives that kind of get pegged or awarded additional points based on their location within an Opportunity Zone. A very good point there for you to make there, Chad. Thank you.

Chad: Yeah. Jimmy, the take-home point here is that, you know, really it’s the ecosystem more so than the incentive itself.

Jimmy: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Chad, I think that will wrap it up for us today. Thanks for coming on. Before we do go, can you tell our listeners, and you got a lot of URLs to give us here, please do tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about you. And let’s go through those URLs one more time for the Acadiana Planning Commission, and Invest Acadiana, and also the OZ Pitch Fest that you’re hosting.

Jimmy: Okay, let me go systematically through these. For the Acadiana Planning Commission, you wanna visit www.planacadiana.org, or the Invest Acadiana partnership between us and One Acadiana and the Community Foundation, that is investacadiana.org. And finally, for OZ Pitch Fest, you can access that through the Innovate South Conference webpage at innovatesouth.org.

Jimmy: Fantastic. And for our listeners out there today, I will have show notes as always on the Opportunity Zones Database website. You can find those show notes at opportunitydb.com/podcast. And there you will find links to all of the resources that Chad and I discussed on today’s episode. Chad, thanks for joining us, really appreciate it.

Chad: All right. Thanks, Jimmy, for having me on.

Jimmy Atkinson

Jimmy Atkinson

Hi, I'm Jimmy Atkinson... I founded OpportunityDb in August 2018. I'm a veteran Internet entrepreneur with a background in economics and Web marketing. I previously founded ETFdb.com. These days, I am passionate about impact investing and tax-advantaged investment opportunities. At the crossroads of these two ideals is the opportunity zones program, a place-based tax policy intended to economically transform some of the poorest areas of the United States with new real estate and business development.

Leave a Reply