Dora Dominguez is Director of Economic Development for Sandoval County. (Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

BERNALILLO — Sandoval County has two areas that may attract more economic growth as Opportunity Zones.

One zone sits close to the edge of Sandia Pueblo on the south side of the county, and the other resides on 12 acres in the town of Bernalillo, on the parcel of land where Amfabsteel sits.

According to Sandoval County’s Economic Development Director Dora Dominguez, Opportunity Zones were created to revitalize economically distressed communities using private investments rather than taxpayer dollars.

“To stimulate private participation, taxpayers who invest in qualified Opportunity Zones are eligible to benefit from capital-gains tax incentives available exclusively through this new legislation,” Dominguez said.

Two years ago, the task of finding these areas, she said, was given to county administrations, which were expected to work with municipalities to submit areas that fit the criteria.

Twenty-two out of 33 counties state-wide have received this designation, Dominguez said.

“When I worked with the City of Albuquerque, we reached out to all of our local developers, because this is a redevelopment program,” she said.

Dominguez said this was a good way to present tax incentives to developers who might be interested in redeveloping a property in a low-income area when the project otherwise would’ve cost a substantial amount of money.

“Amfabsteel is well aware that it is sitting on one of the county’s Opportunity Zones,” she said. “But they are not interested in opening up to outside investors.”

The other businesses located in this parcel are also aware of the OZ designation, but so far, none of them has stepped up, Dominguez said.

Another factor to be considered for a private investor interested in taking advantage of an OZ is that the business being created or expanded needs to have a 10-year life cycle. After those 10 years, the investors can take out their initial investment and anything they’ve earned without having to pay capital gains taxes on that money.

“The challenge we are finding is, with any venture capital investment, that investors want to invest in an area where they are already located,” she said.

Recently, New Mexico Cabinet Secretary for Economic Development Alicia Keyes said in a press release that any company looking to expand or locate a project in an OZ will get a higher Local Economic Development Act consideration upon application. LEDA allows governments in New Mexico to pay for incentives for companies to locate in the state.

“The challenge with that is the minimum capital investment in the project has to be $10 million,” Dominguez said.

Right now, the county is trying to find a way utilize its OZ designation to fund infrastructure improvement that would benefit all the existing business in the zone already, she said.

“We are looking at what our existing sewer lines, water lines, our fiber optics and electrical look like, too,” she said. “This would work if, say, an existing company out there is looking into expanding. Then that company could utilize this state tax incentive to grow.”

However, Dominguez said, many companies are leery about bringing on new investors, which makes them hesitant to use OZs.

To get applications for a project that might go in an OZ, the state has created an online portal that vets the information submitted and aims to pique the interest of outside investors.

“The state wants to partner on these projects,” she said. “Yes, we only have two, but the resources that are there could help boost economic development in our county.”

For information on the state’s Opportunity Zone portal, go to Roll over the “Business Development” tab, click on “Finance Development” under “NMEDD Programs for Business” and then choose “Opportunity Zones” from the list on the left side of the screen.