On July 16th, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) launched its previously announced Opportunity Zone Challenge Program. The Challenge Program is a competitive $500,000 grant program aimed at supporting community efforts to attract investments in NJ Opportunity Zones. Grants awarded through the program will fund municipal and county-level financial and technical planning around Opportunity Zone (OZ) economic development.

The OZ program is a federal incentive program which was part of the 2018 Tax Act that enables investors to re-deploy capital gains into low-income areas (which are the areas targeted by the designated Opportunity Zones) via the use of a Qualified Opportunity Zone fund (QOF). These Qualified Opportunity Zone funds or QOFs may be self-directed and self-certified. Capital gains placed into these QOFs must then be invested into real estate or a qualified business within applicable opportunity zones that exist within all 50 states in the US.

New Jersey has 169 separate Opportunity Zones which span 75 municipalities across all 21 NJ counties.

According to NJEDA, the Challenge Program is intended to encourage and assist communities in developing specific action plans to guide their pursuit of Opportunity Zone–based investments. The Challenge Program will award 5 grants of up to $100,000 each to select municipal or county governments or municipal partnerships of 2 to 5 municipalities whose applications demonstrate a clear strategic plan to build investment capacity in their applicable Opportunity Zones. The Challenge Program grants are open to all 75 NJ municipalities and 21 counties.

As part of the application process, the applicants are required to designate at least one strategic partner whose external expertise will be used to achieve the Challenge Program’s goals.