Oregon leverages New Markets Tax Credits

ZeaChem's Boardman plant is among the Oregon projects to benefit from New Markets Tax Credits.

ZeaChem's Boardman plant is among the Oregon projects to benefit from New Markets Tax Credits.

New Markets Tax Credits are sprucing up Old Town, putting new buildings in depressed areas and freshening up historic landmarks like the White Stag block. They’re also supporting long-established social service programs, new renewable energy projects, rural communities and businesses in low-income areas of Oregon.

But New Markets Tax Credits have their detractors.

Abuse of the credits, intended for low-income communities, made national headlines in February, with particular attention to Portland. Critics say New Markets Tax Credits are too accessible to developers who target low-income areas for luxury projects. Handled poorly, they say the credits have the potential to siphon money from social services to generate profits for banks and financial markets.

“We think the NMTC program has done some wonderful things for rural communities and for natural resource sectors that have very poor access to financing, especially in this environment,” said Bettina von Hagen, CEO of Ecotrust Forest Management, which makes new markets transactions for Ecotrust.

Since 2003, Ecotrust has used $122 million in New Markets Tax Credits to leverage business investments in rural Oregon with an eye toward the forest products industry.

New Markets money secured through Ecotrust also helped finance ZeaChem’s pilot facility for cellulosic ethanol in Boardman, mill upgrades at Ochoco Lumber in John Day and land purchases in Garibaldi and Bandon, where the land is then managed to enhance environmental and social outcomes. In total, the projects, when finalized, create 3,287 permanent jobs and 249 construction jobs in economically distressed areas.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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