The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs wants to encourage tribes and Alaska Native Corporations to identify potential economic development projects or activities inside designated Opportunity Zones.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs wants to encourage tribes and Alaska Native Corporations to identify potential economic development projects or activities inside designated Opportunity Zones. 

Via the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development and its Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI), the department is seeking proposals from tribes for technical assistance to hire consultants to perform feasibility studies for Opportunity Zone projects. The agency has $900,000 allocated for the program. 

“These grants are also intended to fund applicants to obtain qualified guidance on how the development projects, businesses, or technologies they propose can attract investments from an Opportunity Fund,” according to a notice of the request for proposals (RFP) posted in the Federal Register. 

The agency expects to issue 20-25 competitive grants, which it estimates will range from $25,000 to $75,000. Applications are due at the end of the day on Sept. 15. 

“The feasibility studies will empower Tribes to make informed decisions regarding their economic futures,” according to the RFP. “Feasibility studies may concern the viability of an economic development project or business or the practicality of a technology a Tribe may choose to pursue in an Opportunity Zone.”

The goal for the studies is to help the tribes attract investment from an Opportunity Fund, which can invest in property or businesses in an Opportunity Zone. 

“Historically, NABDI studies have placed tribal economic development opportunities at the doorstep of investors, lenders and other government granting agencies,” Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Tara MacLean Sweeney said in a statement. 

The Opportunity Zones program was enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The program allows investors to defer capital gains taxes if they invest in qualified Opportunity Zones, which were created to drive development and economic activity to low-income areas around the country. 

Nationwide, Opportunity Zones most often attract real estate development, but have also been used for energy projects, especially renewable energy installations on existing facilities. 

The RFP is open to federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native Corporations. Consultants to the tribes in the RFP can include colleges and universities or private consulting firms, as well as nonprofits and other organizations. 

The competitive grants will be evaluated on the project’s economic benefits, including how it would create jobs and stimulate economic activity for the applicant tribe. The agency will give priority to proposals from tribes “who can demonstrate that their communities suffer from economic malaise and unemployment and that the study will address these conditions.” It will also weigh whether the applicant has the financial resources to address those conditions. 

As well, the applicants should be willing to implement the recommendations from the feasibility study.

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