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A rainbow hangs in the evening sky above downtown Colorado Springs Saturday, July 6, 2013. Light afternoon showers this week have given relief to lawns all over the Pikes Peak region. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

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New tax incentives in eight "opportunity zones" in Colorado Springs and El Paso County should help struggling areas there, Colorado's top economic development official said Tuesday in Colorado Springs.

"One of the biggest things that I want to see happen is that this does not become an abused tax" incentive, said Stephanie Copeland, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

"It is catalytic for those geographies that would otherwise somewhat languish without investment."

The zones, created in the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year, are designed to encourage investment in low-income areas, providing affordable housing, public improvements to support population and economic growth and startup businesses. The act also is to spur upgrades of "underutilized assets."

In exchange, the investors can delay or reduce federal capital gains taxes on their profits from those investments.

El Paso County has eight opportunity zones, generally in downtown Colorado Springs, in and near the Colorado Springs Airport, along North Nevada Avenue, near The Citadel mall, southeast of Airport Road and Academy Boulevard, and southeast of Interstate 25 and South Circle Drive.

State officials will meet this month to come up with ways to encourage investment in 125 opportunity zones across Colorado, Copeland said during the State of Small Business event at The Pinery on the Hill.

A major challenge for small businesses in Colorado Springs is finding qualified workers, as many millennials aren't being trained for the industries that need jobs, Bailey said. In addition, the city's unemployment rate was at 3.2 percent in April.

"For every open job, we only have 0.64 people" available, said Tatiana Bailey, director of the Economic Forum at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Small businesses also struggle to pay employee health care costs. Nonetheless, Bailey said, small businesses have confidence and expect to pay employees more and provide training.

She will present a new economic forecast Oct. 4, including when to expect the next downturn, a popular question whenever she speaks. The nation's next recession is expected to begin by 2020, according to most economists with the National Association for Business Economics.

Tuesday's annual event was hosted by the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center and the UCCS Economic Forum.

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