Presenter speaks to audience during conference

Auburn University Outreach launches Alabama’s first statewide forum on Opportunity Zones
Developers, investors and leaders gather to discuss innovative new federal program transforming distressed areas of Alabama

More than 230 developers, investors and community leaders met at Auburn University on Wednesday, May 1st, for the first statewide conference on the federal Opportunity Zone program. The Alabama Opportunity Zone Forum was hosted by University Outreach’s Government and Economic Development Institute (GEDI), with support from HSBC, Regions Bank, Sadis & Goldberg, Acumen Capital Group and Opportunity Alabama. The forum was attended by investors, civic officials, and business owners from more than 50 Alabama communities and four states.

Established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, or TCJA, the Opportunity Zone program was created to drive private investment into rural and impoverished areas. Recognizing the significance of the program to Alabama communities, Auburn’s Dr. James Barth, Lowder Eminent Scholar in Finance, Harbert College of Business, and Dr. Royrickers Cook, Vice President for University Outreach, collaborated to conceive a forum about the innovation initiative. "Economic development has long been a strategic priority for Auburn University Outreach," says Cook. "The Opportunity Zone program is one of the largest federal initiatives ever launched to assist communities in promoting economic development in their locales."

The Forum featured leading authorities on opportunity zones from around the United States, representing influential legal, capital, business development and policy institutes. Panelists also included Alabama-based financial experts and civic officials currently engaged in opportunity zone initiatives. "The speakers and panelists were knowledgeable, passionate, and articulate,” noted a participant with interests in a Troy zone. "The material presented opened my eyes to the other stakeholders in the OZ ecosystem beyond just investors."

Indeed, the Forum offered a comprehensive overview of the opportunity zone program and its potential impact on the state. "Attendees learned about Opportunity Zone sites within the state, what potential investors are looking for in terms of investment projects, and what can be, and has been, done by community leaders in Opportunity Zones to attract investment," said Jim Barth, Eminent Scholar in Finance at the Harbert College of Business. Barth is co-author with Shen Zhang, doctoral candidate in finance, of a new report, "Opportunity Zones for Economic Development and Job Creation: The Nuts and Bolts and a Look at Alabama."

Alabama Opportunity Zone Forum was organized by David Mixson, GEDI associate director, in collaboration with other units at Auburn and sponsoring organizations. "GEDI has long been an effective leader in promoting transformative civic leadership for economic development across Alabama," notes Royrickers Cook. "This forum is a great example of Auburn University’s Outreach mission on the move, providing resources to help improve the quality of life across our state."

For more information on the speakers and agenda, visit the Forum web site below.

Alabama Opportunity Zone Forum

Last Updated: March 7, 2022