What is your full name, title, and business name?
Graham A. Allison, CEO and Co-Founder, Opportunity Zone Development Group
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Opportunity Zone Development Group (OzDev Group) is a real estate development company formed to drive investment in the newly declared federal Opportunity Zones. These are emergent, edge, under-invested neighborhoods in every state, including many in Central Ohio. It’s a way to improve these areas while mitigating and even erasing capital gains taxes otherwise owed by investors.
Besides expertise in the still-evolving application of Opportunity Zone incentives, we have decades of experience in financing, design, PR and government relations, construction, administration, and property management.
In other words, we can deliver investors in emergent communities a full-service development model usually reserved for the largest players in real estate.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I have been working in economic development for 15 years and real estate development for the last five years. In December 2017, I was reviewing the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to find new economic development incentives that I could use to assist my clients, when I learned about the new Opportunity Zones. A couple weeks later, a banker colleague in Cincinnati introduced me to my business partner and co-founder, Brian White. Brian and I had similar goals for development and decided to combine forces to launch Opportunity Zone Development Group.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
We have been advocating and educating about Opportunity Zones for almost a year now. We learned that through our strategic partnerships, we provide a full-service property development model, just like the big boys, with the added knowledge of Opportunity Zones.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
Being an entrepreneur means freedom and chaos and turbulence and worry and joy and fear, all in one day. Every day is a challenge and opportunity, and it is critical to remain undaunted.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Much of what we do is about relationships. I have been fortunate to work with some of the best economic development professionals in the country in JobsOhio, Columbus2020, and the City and County Development Officials. The region has a collaborative spirit that our firm embodies as well.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
I am originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I grew up on the south side of Elyria, Ohio. I went to college at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, just up the road from Columbus. After graduation, I took a job with the inaugural Summer of Service program, which later became City Year. I have called Columbus home since and raised two amazing children here.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Where do I start?! I think the most important thing is conviction. You have to fight every day and believe in your value. Don’t listen to those that say you can’t do it. Listen to those that say how you might do it!
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and know when to cut bait.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
I have the brain of an artist. Total right brain. So, I have to beat my head on the wall to crunch numbers on a daily basis. Sometimes the answers to business challenges come to me in my sleep, so I have a notebook beside the bed. The writing isn’t always clear, but I have discovered more than one key answer while tossing and turning in my head.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I am stubborn and extremely loyal, to a fault sometimes.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
The stresses of owning a business can create dark tendrils that can drag you down. You have to keep your head up. You never know when you’ll get that big break.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
Allowing someone else to determine my value. It cost me everything, but like the phoenix, I have risen from the ashes and have so much optimism for the future. If you’ve been down, you can rise too.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
Finding a business partner that balances our firm and the relationships we have made along the way. We’re not commodities brokers looking at a ticker. We win when we help others win.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
I had been a solopreneur for several years. Expanding the tent to create a virtual real estate development team has unlocked the future for our firm.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
We find ethical, straightforward partners and work to create value together. I have learned I do not need to carry the burden alone.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
Early on in the business, we went deep into negotiations we should have stayed away from. Some deals are just not meant to be, and the deal killers were a basic difference of values, not the details. While we’ll take the lessons of failed negotiations, we’re focused on the future. Did I mention we’re developing a safe housing development for ex-felons with a non-profit client called NISRE?
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Believe it or not, I was thrilled by paying a legal bill yesterday. Our Opportunity Zone attorney Andrew Doup of Kegler Brown Ritter + Hill is brilliant.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
We’re launching our Qualified Opportunity Fund and cannot wait to make an impact in some of our most underserved areas of the City.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
We are grateful to be able to share our story in print and have enjoyed presenting to groups on Opportunity Zones. I am looking forward to speaking at the Opportunity Zone Expo on January 25th in Los Angeles. We have an excellent opportunity to share our model, which we hope others will emulate to make impacts in their communities, while making some money.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)? Please provide name and business name so we can give them credit!
In addition to our attorney, Andrew Doup, the team at the accounting firm Clarus Partners has been great to us. They are a trusted strategic partner and we’re glad they’re on our team.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
I have been fortunate to have a group of friends and colleagues that are savvy and accomplished businessmen and businesswomen. From my long-time friend and Franklin University MBA advisor to my fraternity brothers and former co-workers, I have been privileged to find mentors that have helped me get to where I am today.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
I foresee a high-performing team of real estate and economic developers making an impact in our community, here in Columbus and other cities within high-potential Opportunity Zones. We plan to be the leading experts in this field and to use our skills to create jobs, innovation and economic prosperity.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
Scott Schiff. Yes, the guy on TV. He is a force in real estate. He taught me so much about the business. He took a chance on me and I am grateful for his tutelage.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Just about any festival on the Scioto Mile is a terrific day. Our city’s energy is fantastic! Let’s keep up the momentum!